Monday, July 24, 2017

Completing my "Asia" tour - 80%

Ever since i took my first flight out of the country at the age of 21 (yes i know it took me 21 years to actually take a plane but that’s not the main point) If you have been following me on my social media, I’m now traveling at least 3 times a year to visit different countries, mainly around Asia for the past 6 years, covering one country at a time and if i were to do up a quick summary of the countries i’ve been to in an Asia map version, it would look something like this:
Other Asia countries i have been to that is not in the map above includes Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Japan will be up next this October! My friends and i are also planning for a trip to Cebu, Philippines next year! That would pretty much round up my “Asia tour” and time to venture out to the “ang mo” countries.

With that said, i will still continue to do short trips to my favourite shopping paradise like BKK and Hong Kong. In fact, there are definitely so many more places to explore within our nearby countries! For example, just simply in Malaysia, there are amazing places like Langkawi, Cameron Highlands and Kuala Terengganu that i have yet to explore and share with you guys! Oh no. I just got reminded that i've yet to complete my Taiwan travelogue and there is still Yogyakarta after that. Just 3 more months before i head off to Japan :|

Most of my friends had their “virgin” flight really young when their parents brought them together for an overseas trip. But then again, i’m not complaining though. I had my fair share of fun with my family when we traveled to Genting via coach. I mean if i were to go to amazing places like New Zealand at the age of 5 or 10, how much would i remember or appreciate the place compared to now if i did up my own itinerary and go to the places that i really want to go?
Trying to source for cheap air fares and accommodation was little harder back then. I remember sitting down in front of the computer, having to open multiple internet tabs of different airline sites and comparing them side by side to see which has a better timing to price ratio. For accommodations, i had to google online to read countless of reviews and recommendations and finally do direct bookings from their official websites which can be an hassle having to input your details again and again on the different websites. Now that times has changed, we have websites like Traveloka which gives you the cheapest deal and hotels in Southeast Asia at the same time with great savings just within seconds!
Long gone are the days where you have to compare fares and prices like what i did in the past. Traveloka helps you to compare cheap flight tickets and hotels with the most intensive search results. Simply search and book through their site via secure online transaction (All information is fully encrypted for data security, so there's no need to worry.) And if you need help, there is always 24/7 customer service via email, phone or live chat! Sounds really convenient and easy isn’t it? They even have this promotion page on their site where you can check out all their latest promotions and offers they have in collaboration with air lines partners, hotel accommodations and even credit cards deals for your travels.
One of the featured airline partners of Traveloka is Malaysia Airlines, the national carrier of Malaysia which is probably the best way to fly to, from and around Malaysia. MAS flies to more than 1000 destinations in more than 150 countries, and gives its frequent flyer members special access to more than 650 airport lounges worldwide. Fun fact, you can check out Traveloka to get awesome MAS online booking deals.
Recently they even had this special fare promotion starting from just RM319 for round trip flying from Kuala Lumpur to designations like Singapore, Bangkok Jakarta and even more. (I did a quick currency conversion, only SGD100!)

Times has changed. People nowadays are no longer like in the past where we book tour packages, forcing ourselves to wake up super early to join the tour group to go to places where we might not be interested in because it's part of the planned itinerary. Instead we do up our own itinerary and visit places that we really want to go, finding our own cheap flights tickets and accommodations and always keeping a look out for deals and promotions. Isn't it?

So now, the most important question is, where is your next destination?

Signing off,                                       

Monday, July 10, 2017

7D6N: Cingjing - Sun Moon Lake - Tai Chung - Taipei (Day 1)

It’s been awhile since i came back from Taiwan and i have always been procrastinating for the longest time to do up the travelogue (where got time…) while the photo folder just sits on my desktop since forever. I figured out if i don’t start, it will probably never happen so here i am, on the train furiously typing on my macbook before i lose the momentum.

This is also the reason why i bought my macbook at the start of the year - for sudden inspiration and to do work on the go at times like this. This is my first macbook (yes, i have no idea why people still thinks that i have been using a macbook my whole life) I read a blog article sometime back about maximising use of time on the go and it really inspired me (something along the lines on why waste time scrolling FB or playing games on the go when you can do something more productive) next thing i did was to research for a really affordable and light laptop that i can bring around and i ended up getting my very first macbook. So much for wanting “something affordable”, LOL But hey, i have been updating my blog more regularly all these while right? Guess it really paid off :) 

Oh gosh, i’m digressing so much. Trust me, i can go on and on about my macbook, LOL #applefan 

Back to my Taiwan travelogue, i’m guessing i don’t have the time to write a very detailed blog post, compared to last time in school where i had all the time in the world but still, i’m going to write my travelogue in chronological order, covering the places i went and a bit of extra details if i can think of any just in case you guys are using my travelogue as reference for your itinerary. Prior to the trip, i did some intensive research and decided to venture out of the “typical” taipei which i did in 2012. I even went to Taiwan Tourism Board at Raffles place to ask for recommendations and advice (not forgetting freebies), bought some attractions vouchers from KKday in advance, and collaborated with Orange Hotel for accommodation. I will definitely share more along the way as i write this travelogue.

It was not the easiest itinerary to plan because of all the traveling from places to places and i can’t really read Chinese. I have only been to Taiwan once and did not really venture out of Taipei so there wasn't much planning to do. This time is much different, directions were confusing and at the same time, i was searching for the shortest and cheapest option...
7D6N: Cingjing - Sun Moon Lake - Tai Chung - Taipei  

Bought the tickets from Jetstar almost 6 months ahead due to some promotion so it cost me about $280 per pax with 20kg check in baggage allowance. It was a “buy first think later” moment because we all know how Taiwan airfare can fluctuates. Decided on the midnight flight (1.15am) because it would mean we would reach early the next day (6am) and not spend the whole day traveling, wasting time.  Flight time was 4 hours and 45 mins in total.

But before that, exchanged my sim card voucher which i bought from KKday, really fast and super convenient. Just pick from the choices available (3, 5 or 7 days etc) from the website. Upon landing at Tao Yuan airport, head to the designated counter, in my case terminal 1, counter 1 and exchange your print-out voucher for the sim card. Just ask around if you are lost. Got the 7 day unlimited data card for $22 since i will be in Taiwan for a week. 
On top of the SIM card voucher, I also bought the High Speed Rail (HSR) ticket from KKday. Basically it's cheaper over the counter (20% cheaper), time saving since HSR is the fastest way and also much more convenient. What I really like about KKday is that you get to plan your travel way ahead even before you are at your destination. This way, you are very clear on your itinerary on the things you need to do or where to head to. Really very useful i would say.
Getting to CingJing is not exactly easy or straight forward. I had a hard time figuring out how to get there. So basically from Tao Yuan airport, you head down to the basement to purchase bus tickets to Tao Yuan HSR (it's not linked to the airport) then board the HSR to Taichung HSR station. From there, you can purchase the Nantou bus tickets which brings you to Cingjing. The entire journey will take you about 3 hours or so, which explains why I took a midnight flight.  
You can also purchase the train bento sets to consume on the train. These train rides can be pretty long despite being the fastest mode of transport to travel from city to city. The bento sets usually contain one meat with a couple of sides and an egg, quite delicious and affordable! I got mine from 7 eleven but the nicest one i ate was from this Japanese bento counter at the station which i got on the return trip back to taichung. Let me try to dig up the photo and post.
Nantou bus tickets can purchased at the basement of Taichung HSR station and it will cost about NT262/pax. On a side note, at the ticketing area, you will be approached by cab drivers who will ask if you would want to share the car with other tourists to save time. Of course, it will definitely be faster but you can also expect to pay more. Can't really remember how much but I think it's about NT450 per person, but we saved half the traveling time.  Quite worth it.
Arrived at our accommodation - Spring Ground Resort. There are several popular ones among Singaporeans like Misty Villa and Starry, and Spring ground was also one of them. Paid NT2160 (SGD97) for 1 night. Take note that weather can get really cold since Cingjing is quite high up in the mountains so do prepare your thicker clothing, especially if you are joining the sunrise tour the next early morning. Just be prepared for the chill weather...
The basic room has everything you need and one good thing about Spring Resort is that they will drive you up to Green grass land, the main attraction in Cingjing where it's literally a big piece of grassland and you get to interact with quite a number of free roaming sheep. One benefit of staying in Spring Resort is that you can just let the reception counter know that you wish to head up to GGL and they will fetch you there in their private car, and at the end, give them a call when you want to return so they can come and fetch you all the way back, the hosts are super nice!
What people usually do at GGL is to take a stroll, enjoy the scenery, buy some dry food and feed the sheep. Not forgetting to take awesome photos along the way. I think we spent about 2 hours walking the designated route, and ending up at another garden, grabbed dinner along the way and headed back to the minsu to rest after a long day.   
There is nothing much to do at Cingjing, really. Just relax and enjoy the place.   
Oh ya, there are some food stalls along the way at GGL. Do try their authentic taiwan sausage, their bamboo shoot rice or get a bowl of warm soup to warm yourself since the weather can get really cold up there at GGL.  The people in Taiwan are generally very nice and friendly! We had a little chat with a stall auntie and she kindly gave us a bowl of warm soup on top of the food items that we ordered because it was really cold that afternoon, so kind :)
On the side note, Spring ground resort is just located beside the famous Old England (老英格蘭) where it’s said to be one of the most luxurious and expensive minsu in Taiwan. (Did a quick check on Agoda and it cost on average $550 a night!) What tourists usually do to gain access to this mansion is to go for their afternoon tea set (about NT450/SGD$20) between 11.30am to 4pm. The exterior itself is already very grand, cannot imagine the inside...
There is also not much things to do in the evening or at night and there is only one area where you can get food and drinks (they have the famous bubble tea stall up there though) so it’s either you da pao food back for dinner and ask if your minsu serves dinner. Usually it’s steamboat but Spring Ground Resort dining area was still under renovation at that point of time… That's pretty much the first day of my trip in Taiwan.

The real highlight of going to Cingjing is the Hehuanshan Sunrise tour (合歡山觀日出) happening the next morning, which I will cover in Day 2 post. Most people that head to Cingjing will go for the sunrise tour and your minsu reception will definitely ask if you will want to join. To be honest, this sunrise tour was the highlight of my entire Taiwan trip!

Till the next post,