Saturday, April 23, 2011

Beijing Tour: Day 3 Wangfujing Street & Bird's Nest

On our third and officially the last full day in Beijing, we started off our mornings with different itinerary.

Anna went out of the city to attend her church service while the rest of us found our way to St. John Cathedral in Dongdan for the Palm Sunday Mass. 

Getting to St. John Cathedral
From Yonghegong Stn (Line 2), we get off in Dongdan Stn (Line 2) and transfer to Line 1 and get off in Wangfujing Stn (Line 1) just one station away. We then walked like 3kms to St. Joseph Cathedral church but we didn't feel tired because we saw the array of malls and boutiques of signature brands on the right while on the left is array of jewelry stores, electronics, flea market and famous Wangfujing street foods. It was like a one-stop-shop. The weather is cold seems like 7-10C and heavy winds -and we learned later on that it rained in Great Wall and slightly rain of snow. Good thing we scheduled our trip during our 1st day, otherwise, we did not see anything!

Of course, we first searched for the church. Indeed, just follow the star and you will find what you are searching for. =) And what i was looking for is a mall!!

the long stretch of Wangfujing Street

Amidst the tempting malls, boutiques and stores, we kept on walking until we found the church.   They have their own version of "palaspas" made out of pine trees and for FREE! It was a solemn mass though in Chinese language but somehow we managed to pray on our own, thanking God for a beautiful life I have.

St John Cathedral

After the mass, we had our breakfast in Mcdo and then went to the nearby flea market for a quick- 30 min-shopping!

Who can't miss Mcdo even in Beijing?

I recommend for a good place to buy souvenirs - Wangfujing Street!
Since we'd seen Bird's Nest at night, we decided to take a quick visit at day and had our photo souvenir of the famous Beijing landmark.

Getting there, we walked back to Wangfujing Stn (Line1) and transfer in Dongdan (Line 5). From Dongdan Stn, we took Line 5 going to Beituchengdonglu Stn to transfer in Line 10. From there, we get off in Xiongmaohuandao Stn to transfer to the Special Olympic Lane (Line 8) and get off in Olympic Green Stn. We took Exit D to National Stadium and had our quick photo-op.

We then headed back to our inn to meet Anna and check-out. We left our luggages in their storage area so we can continue with our tour. At 2PM, we checkout from Candy Inn and had our final lunch in the restaurant near Lama Temple. It was another bounty late lunch.

One thing I love in Beijing? - FOOD!


Beijing Tour: Day 2 Beijing Zoo, Market, NCPA, Bird's Nest and WaterCube

It was around Christmas holidays in Year 2011 when I took a handful of guts and finally conquered the commuters' jungle in Metro Manila - EDSA.  At that time, it had only been months since I learned the basic lesson of manual driving with an instructor or my brother in the passenger's seat but haven't tried driving alone yet.  The culprit who left me no choice but to gather much bravery to drive was the crazy traffic in the metro that got heavier than ever even beyond midnight, when going home after a mid-shift was getting more difficult.

Moving forward first quarter of Year 2012,  I took driving in full force! I live in the eastern part of General Manila Area where main roads are on uphill and where having your own car is much cheaper and more convenient than coming to work on public transport.  Every day, I mumble a prayer as I drive up Batasan Hills on manual transmission - when I need to perfectly work on clutch, gas and brake trying not to bump the car ahead of me or hit the one behind me.  I've always wished the traffic lights are always green!

Those were stressful driving days for me but was indeed a perfect training for me.  I've proven that you only need enough bravery in driving! It's like making quick decision to step on brakes when the car ahead takes an abrupt halt or makes an unwarned left or right turn.

By the time I scheduled my solitary trip to South Korea, I had much confidence that I can drive in Jeju Island too. I read from many travel tips and blogs that Jeju can be best explored via self-driving. I was about to take it but found out it was a bit expensive for a solo traveler like me. On top of that, I may not able to see the best places as I pass them because I need to focus on the road. So I scrapped if off from my list.

Then, I learned about Udo Island.

the ferry to Udo Island

Welcome to Udo Island
Udo Island is one of the islets surrounding Jeju Island.  From Seongsan Port, it is accessible in a 15-minute-ferry ride.  A day is enough to go around the Cow Island on bikes, ATVs or even on foot.  So I nailed it down in my itinerary in Jeju Island.

The island is as charming as its name. Upon arrival, we were welcomed with lots of rental booths for bikes, ATV and bus tours. Fees vary as well. Bikes can be rented for KRW10,ooo, ATV and scooter for KRW20,000 and Bus Tour for KRW5,000. I could join the bus tour but I wanted to drive on my own. Having seen the landscape of the island from afar, there are lots of uphills too so I gave up biking and went for ATV. After all, it's still a driving experience.

After I paid KRW20,000 for my two-hour-ATV rental, the guy gave me a quick orientation on how to use the ATV -which to push, to start, to break and how to open the engine of the machine. It's quite easy as I've driven a scooter and ATV before.

Udo Maritime Park offers a lot of places to go around the "Lying Cow Island" such as Udo Peak, Geommeolle Beach, Dongangyeonggul Cave & Sebin White Sand Beach. But living in a beautiful tropical country, Philippines,I have easy access to these so I just spent my half-day driving around Udo Island with my camera in a tripod, tied to my backpack that was safely trapped onto the net.

It's time to take that camera rolling!

I went first to the area where I saw houses - to the neighborhood and villages. It was perfectly serene and seemed like a normal neighborhood for me. The houses were separated with piles of stones that served as fences. I just drove everywhere for more than half an hour until I decided to go around the route encircling the island. I stopped in any places I thought best for photoshoot - the yellow wild flowers, the Jeju women from afar, the scenery.

From the island shores, you can see the women scuba divers of Jeju Island, their pride, who've known to catch the creatures from the sea as their means of living. Fresh from their catch, there are kiosks along the shore that serve food. I wish I tried but it was difficult to order without any menu to refer to.

Udo Light House

the many sights of Udo Island

One of the women of Jeju - they're strong to scuba diving everyday
in front of one of the cafes in Udo Island - South Korea seemed like cheesy in love. I've seen a lot of this kind for a photo.  For the time being, I sat on my own. Will see in the future if I can have somebody beside me.

South Korea as haven of coffeeshops, Udo Island is also surrounded with many cafes.  It was so relaxing to take a sip of coffee while looking at the calmness of the ocean, the sounds of the waves and chirping of the birds.  They're of different themes too.  I wish I could have stayed overnight in the island and just enjoy all the time in the world to just sit back and relax...and allow for the time to just go by.

various stops for food fresh from the sea
After two hours, I went back to the rental booth and returned the ATV.  By that time, it was 12NN already and the next schedule of ferry back to Seongsan Harbour was at 12:30. 

But then, I remembered one thing! I have to taste it's famous peanut ice cream!

Udo's peanut ice cream.
I took the ferry back to Seongsan Harbour for my next stop, Seongsang Ilchulbong.  It was a bit difficult for me to leave the island.  For some reason, I left my heart in there.  I always love the sea, especially the island.  It's my dream to have a resthouse in an island or at the top of the mountain where I can see the ocean.  As I sat down inside the ferry, I told myself I will go back and stay for the night.
My driving experience via ATV in Udo Island is making another dream happen! Watch it here! :-)

Additional Tips:
Getting to Udo Island
Take an intercity bus from Seogwipo or Jeju City or direct buses (Dongilju bound for Seongsan) to Seongsangri Port. Get off at Seongsalliipgu bus stop .  From Seogwipo, I actually took the intercity bus at Jungmun Rotary and just asked the driver if going Seongsan Ilchulbong.  You can see anyways the peak of Seongsan Ilchulbong for the Seongsalliipgu bus stop.  Estimated travel time is 2.5 hrs.  From there, take the taxi for a quick 10-minutes drive to Seongsan Harbour. Then, take the ferry to Udo Island.  You may get one-way or return ticket.  It takes only 15-minutes to get to Udo Island.
1. Bus tour via Udo Shuttle Bus when 30 minutes intervals for every designated stops.  If you neither want to sweat biking around the island that will take much longer and have a driver license to rent ATV or scooter, this is the only option to go around Udo Island.
2. ATV or Scooter Rental - KRW20,000 for two hours
3. Biking KRW10,000 for two hours
There are a lot of inns and hostel around (some are on-going construction) but if you just wish to take a quick round and glimpse of the island, half of the day is enough and then spend the half of the day hiking up UNESCO Heritage, Seongsan Ilchulbong.

Friday, April 22, 2011

I Finally Conquered the Great Wall of China

I chased cherry blossoms in South Korea in 2010 but we're a little bit late. Spring has weathered already to prequel green of Summer. But I did not give up. A year after, I chased cherry blossoms in Beijing and not only i breathe Spring flowers but saw, felt and conquered the Great Wall of China.

Barely three hours since we arrived, we managed to wake up at five and started our first day in Beijing with our Great Wall of China escapade. But more than that, it was a day when we took the first glimpse of the ironic beauty of Beijing.  Having arrived past midnight, we had nothing to see but only a few street lights.  It was too dark and seemed like the city slept early.  More so, looking at at the neon lights of Candy Inn as we passed through the narrow alley a few meters from the main street, I did not expect grandest of  Beijing, only a typical Chinatown ambiance that I've experienced in Hongkong, Bangkok, Singapore, Malaysia and even in Binondo, Philippines.

Well, not a so good first impression.

Neon lights of Hai Inn/Candy Inn from the main street
the main street from Candy Inn at daylight 
However, as we passed through the subways, getting out of the exits, walking with the locals (maybe some tourists too) the next day, I found there's more in Beijing.  In a flashback (or sort of summary), here's like a smooth directions of getting to Great Wall of China in Mutianyu entrance.
the early morning scene in our Day 1 in Beijing
We left Candy Inn at 6:30AM and headed to Yonghegong Station entrance. From Candy Inn to Yonghegong Stn, turn right to the subway station. Along the street is an array of restaurants and Chinese stores for incense and other Chinese stuffs used for the Chinese ritual at the nearby Lama Temple. Upon entering the entrance of Yonghegong Station, don't enter through the turnstile of the first subway entrance, that is for Line 5. Instead, proceed to Line 2 (barely 10 mins walk). You may ask for the direction going to Line 2. Take Line 2 subway and get off in Dongzhimen (one station from Yonghegong). Then, take Exit B of Dongzhimen Station and just walk going to the bus transit hub. It's just a 5-minute walk from Exit B. From the bus transit, take Bus 980 going to Huairou District/Minyu. Travel time is approximately one hour and fare is CYN15. Tell the driver to drop you off in Minyu. In that bus station, there are mini-vans waiting for tourists going to Mutianyu Great Wall. Travel time from Minyu to Great Wall is approximately one hour as well and we rented the van for CYN80 each round-trip where the driver waited for us at the parking area of Great Wall Mutianyu entrance.

Seemed like easy, right? But sharing with you the "hiccups" of our journey to Great Wall of China, I'm proud to share with you our adventure.
Ready to conquer the road and streets of Beijing
When we got out of Dongzhimen Station Exit B, we're a bit lost looking for the bus transit. There's no sign of buses parking nearby but only flock of people going to one direction and seemed to be gone when they reached that intersection.  We were clueless. Where are the buses?! Luckily for us, a kind lady approached Anna who seemed to notice her kept looking at the printed itinerary and map.  She showed it to the kind lady that we where looking for the bus to Minyu. She told her she's a bus assistant and offered to accompany us to the bus station.  She was so kind to bring us to right bus (Bus 980), got us a good seats (just behind the driver), took our fare as we didn't understand the driver on how much is the fare and told the driver to drop us off in Minyu.
our first good samaritan in Beijing
When the bus stopped at Minyu, a middle-age man of medium built and quite tall went up the bus and seemed like looking for someone. He then pointed to me and Anna and waved to us like inviting to get off the bus.  Even though we did not understand a thing, we got off the bus anyways.  He just said, "Great Wall" and seemed like everything had just coincidentally put together and there us riding his van to Great Wall of China Mutianyu entrance. I'm not sure though if he and the lady knew each other because it was surprising that he was looking for us in the bus. Anyways, our driver was very nice and smiling person. He can't speak much of English but we managed to understand each other by hand gestures.  He even talked a lot on our way with his key English words, always smiling and I managed to answer back as if I understood him (I sat at the passenger seat in the front to get a good shot on the road).  He was telling me about the places we passed by, what are those and others that I just assumed or managed to understand.  Looking back, I don't why but we had a good talk.
On our way to Mutianyu

one of the landmarks near Great Wall Mutianyu entrance
Our journey to Great Wall is not only about climbing and hiking the stretch of the snake-like man-made fortifications of walls from both sides that made the famous Great Wall of China for centuries. It made me realized one thing,"A genuine smile and courteous gestures are the main language of humankind".  
with our Chinese driver who was fatherly enough to take care of us

Here some of the options as written in Anna's itinerary (if you're not lucky enough to meet these good souls in Beijing =))

Directions (from our detailed itinerary prepared by Anna)
Option 1 via Bus 916 (trip 7am / 8am)
Walk to Dongzhimen (东直门长途站) station
and take bus # 916 (16 CNY 1-way)
Tell the driver to drop you off Huairou District
and take a mini bus to Mutianyu Great Wall
Last trip back from Huairou to Dongzhimen (2pm/3pm)

Option 2 via Bus 936 (trip 7am / 8am)
From Dongzhimen outer street, walk east & show
this to any local "东直门外大街"(Dongzhimen Outer Street)
When you get to the bus station ask the driver
"这个巴士到慕田峪吗?"(does this bus go to Mutianyu?)
(yes) 不是(no) 不知道(I dont know)
Take bus to the foot of Mutianyu (16 CNY 1-way)
Bus travel is 2 hours
Entrance fee to Great Wall (45 CNY)
Cable car lift / Toboggan (65 CNY)

We arrived Mutianyu at nine and agreed with the driver that we could finish the walk and hike for three hours so we were expected to go back by noon. We paid CYN45 for the entrance fee and CYN65 for the cable car lift and toboggan ride. 

Why we chose Mutianyu Great Wall?

Tourists don't usually visit this area and not crowded like Badaling or Juyonggan sections of Great Wall. We hiked and climbed the approximately 2.5 kms stretch which allowed us to explore around 8 towers and looked at the valley on both sides. By noon, we went down via Toboggan and had our first taste of authentic Chinese lunch. We bought some souvenirs too like magnets and dolls. Make sure to haggle even up to 90%. Magnets were originally sold at CYN65 but we were able to buy it at CYN5 each for 6 pcs - the power of wholesale haggling! =)

In going back to Beijing, we just waited for Bus 980 and get off in the bus terminal. 

the happy faces who just conquered The Great Wall of China

My Top Five Take-Aways from my Great Wall of China experience:


Wikipedia's information about Great Wall of China:
"The Great Wall of China is a series of stone and earthern fortifications in northern China, built originally to protect the northern borders of the Chinese Empire against intrusions by various nomadic groups. Several walls have been built since the 5th century BC that are referred to collectively as the Great Wall, which has been rebuilt and maintained from the 5th century BC through the 16th century. One of the most famous is the wall built between 220-206 BV by the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang. Little of that wall remains; the majority of the existing wall was built during the Ming Dynasty".

I felt the tears in my eyes as I looked at the panoramic view of the Great Wall of China from the cable car lift and at the last Tower 14 that we successfully conquered amidst the aching feet, thirst and short of breath. This is one of the original Seven Wonders of the World and recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Site!  I only read and studied about this in my History class back in high school but was able to see it and step on in person!! I finally chased my dream.


The chairlift moves 550 meters in total length where we enjoyed the panoramic and scenic beauty of Mutianyu Great Wall easily. The lift is enough for two persons and we were just surprised when the assistants where shouting of words that we didn't understand. I only figured out that they wanted us to be ready for the chairlift and you have to be quick. =) That guy even lifted me to the chairlift. I really enjoyed the view and couldn't get enough of the flowers and cherry blossoms everywhere. True enough, almost 96% of Mutianyu is covered by trees, orchards and chestnut blossoms in spring.  

Going down, we took the Toboggan and it was so much fun - another adventure scribbled in my travel chronicles (can be compared to the Luge of Singapore's Sentosa) and the in-land version of the Giant Water Slide in Samal Island, Davao.

Toboggan is also called "Nanirrigated farmland sled"(verbatim from the brochure) and made by Weigang Company in Germany in stainless steel. It allows the tourists to do speed driving in a snake-like path down to the foot of Great Wall.

3. FLOWERS, FLOWERS, FLOWERS (Indeed, I breathe Spring!!)

I prayed that I can see some cherry blossoms in Beijing since I was not able to see it in Seoul. Fortunately, our travel was scheduled exactly when spring started to bloom in Beijing. The scenery is very beautiful with many kinds of flowers everywhere. I saw apricot blossoms, cherry blossoms, magnolias, cloves, pear blossoms and peach blossoms. I am not sure though if I was able to find peonies as they all looked the same. =)

4. Captured moments and memories.

One thing I can say about Beijing - dumplings overload!
They served 12 doz of dumplings for a very cheap price (almost Php 70 only).

our lunch at Great Wall restaurant

Back in my high school History class, Great Wall of China is one of the Seven Wonders of the World (now it is labeled as 7 Wonders of Medieval World, or, New 7 Wonders of the World).  It is indeed a "dream come true" for me as I marked a check in my bucket list of fulfilling my dream to travel the wonders of the world.

It was so genuinely blissful trip that I even won a chic luggage when I submitted a photo entry to a travel magazine - a raw photo, not photoshop nor edited, just capturing the beauty of Great Wall and my blissful aura.

What is your dream travel?

The Unexposed Charm of Candy Inn

Candy Inn Beijing/1 Hai Inn (北京海纳宾馆官方网站)
No. 31 Beixin Hutong, Yonghegong St.
Dongcheng St. Beijing, China

We arrived Beijing International Airport past 12 am and took the van to Beixin Hutong, Doncheng District, the location of our inn for the next three days. We took the van for CYN400 because the taxi only allows 3-4 passengers and would cost us around CYN180-200 for each taxi. Since we are eight, with two Pinays who asked to join us in going to the city, we opted for the van instead as it was past midnight already and we did not want to go to the hostel separately. Travel time is around 30mins.
Beixin Hutong street sign
The van dropped us off in the intersection of Beixin Hutong and Yonghegong St(main road). The stretch of Beixin Hutong from Yonghegong going to Hai Inn is only around 10 meters away. You can actually see the Hai Inn signboard from the main street. Our main landmarks are Yonghegong Station and Lama Temple. From the street, you won't think that the inn looks beautiful inside.
1. Hai Inn (Candy Inn) neon sign board; 2) Reception Area; 3) Chips for sale
We were greeted by Christina, sweet, soft-spoken, Chinese girl who talk a little English. After 30 mins of verifying our reservation and paid in full total of CYN291 (around Php2000) for our stay of 3 nights and 3.5 days, Christina handed over our key card for our triple room accommodation. I, Jen and Joan were in the same room 107 while Anna, Vian and Lea in room 308.

our rooms in Candy Inn
Candy Inn or 1 Hai Inn is a comfortable home away from home with only 30 rooms suitable for backpackers and independent travelers like us. Adjacent the reception desk is a common room with 3 computers for free. Guests can spare some time to play fooseball and also offers breakfast that should be ordered a night before and free drinking waters along the dining hall. On the second floor is a Fun Bar where events are held every Saturday nights. Guests can gather together for whatever theme set-up for the night by the host.
arts and homey feel at Candy Inn

I experienced a good stay at Candy Inn - it was homey, cheap but clean and good location.

Check my friend Anna's blog on Candy Inn here.

My Travel Buddies

Traveling is the true love of my life. 
                             - Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat.Pray.Love)

My passion for travel started when I joined my friend's trip to Baguio in 2001.  Weekend out-of-town trips like Puerto Galera, Batangas and more followed years after.  When I first traveled abroad in 2006 for a business trip in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, it was then that I knew I can do it on my own. 

my first trip abroad
Bound to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
November 2006
Burning with the fuel of curiosity through my veins and the accelerating excitement to see other countries like Hongkong and Singapore, I started to visit other country's tourism sites, read travel blogs and browse pictures on the net and travel magazines.  When I planned the Hong Kong trip in 2006 for 6 months, I started to scribble the bucket list of my dream destinations.  For the last eight years, the scheduled trips and planned vacation leaves had been my motivation to work hard. It then evolved from the mere fact of being in the place to getting fascinated of what I can discover.

After exploring the place myself, I find more fun in preparing the itinerary all over again and then share with friends who love to travel too. The thrill and adventure are very different when I am trying to figure out where I am heading - when I get lost and ask a local for directions.  We speak different languages but a smile and simple gestures can still make people understand each other.

We heart Spring! At Great Wall of China April 2011
L-R: Joan (on-site calculator), Anna (ITI planner), Lea (wala lang), Me (navigator), Vian (key keeper), Jen (simpleng photographer)
With my regular travel buddies like Anna, Joan and Vivian, we explored not only the beautiful places in the Philippines but also other countries like South Korea and Beijing. We are a group of independent travelers who, at the test of time, get used of each other and mutually understand the silent rules like "wake-up call", sharing of common expenses such as food, transportation and tours, amazing race-like itinerary, staying in a hostel, and most of all respect for time.  We can separate during shopping time but stick to the meeting time thereafter. 
Gyeongbokgung Palace
South Korea
May 2010
We shared the same interest in finding adventure as we figure out the country's transport system; experience and witness the culture and tradition; watch the locals way of life; taste their local food and cuisine; research for the best shopping districts (both for branded and local cheap best buys) and wander the tourist destinations (literally means walking and walking and walking!).
long stretch of Summer Palace
Beijing, China
..and on March 2013, I will be living my dream to travel only on my own.