It’s a rainy winter day in December, the perfect weather to reflect on the year and writing a blog post. I have been tinkering with photography lately and love inspirational quotes, hence the birth of this post marrying both. It has been an eventful year for us and taught us not to take each other and life for granted. Life goes on regardless of what happened around us, so prioritize and live life with no regrets.
In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.
2019 will definitely go down as an unforgettable year for me and my family. I hope to inspire you to embark on your own journey of discovery and exploration. I can’t wait to see what 2020 will bring. Happy Holidays to all and see you again in 2020.
Traveling—it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.
Ibn Battuta, The Travels of Ibn Battutah
My recent trip to Germany left me in awe of the beauty of the region we visited and with a thirst to see more of the country. This trip marked the first time I traveled with an organized tour group and with my mom. My mom is an expert in group tours, so I let her choose the destination. We ended up with a 10-day trip to the Bavarian region spending most days along the Deutsche Alpenstraβe (German Alpine Road) outside of the major cities. After all the air traveling and time differences, we were left with a jam-packed 7 full-day itinerary. Since this was not my usual travel style, I didn’t know what to expect of the trip but to spend time with my mom. With that in mind, we set off to make the best of what the tour had to offer and to seek out the unique experience in each destination. A picture speaks a thousand words, in this blog I hope to show you the beauty of Germany through my lens.
Day 1 – Taipei to Frankfurt
Day 2 – Frankfurt to River Rhine cruise to Heidelberg
Day 3 – Heidelberg to Titisee and Bodensee to Fussen
Day 4 – Fussen to Neuschwanstein Castle to Weiskirche to Garmisch
Day 5 – Garmisch to Zugspitze to Berchtesgaden
Day 6 – Berchtesgaden to Konigssee to Munich
Day 7 – Munich to Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Day 8 – Rothenburg to Nuremberg to Frankfurt
Day 9 and 10 – Travel back to Taipei
We hit the ground running as soon as we arrived in Frankfurt. The first destination was a riverboat ride along the River Rhine. It was a great first impression of Germany as the shores of the river were lined with charming buildings, old castles, rolling hills, and vineyards. The day was cloudy and cold, but we decided to bundle up and stayed on the outside deck of the boat to soak in the beauty of the area. While our tour mates shopped at the little souvenir store after lunch, we opted for a stroll along the River Rhine. It was a good way to walk off the heavy lunch and breathe in some fresh air before we had to board the tour bus for a long ride to Heidelberg for our first palace/castle visit. It was a ‘wow’ moment when the city came into sight with its reddish-colored Old Bridge and rooftops. We could see miles and miles of the breathtakingly colorful landscape atop the palace grounds. I was glad that we visited this time of year despite the cold to appreciate the vibrant colors of autumn. The cool crisp air and the gloomy sky added a mysterious vibe to the city.
We visited many more castles after Heidelberg and the best was Neuschwanstein Castle. There were three ways to get to the castle from the parking area; walk, by bus and by horse carriage. We planned to take the bus up and walk down. Before the visit to the castle itself, a must-see is Mary’s Bridge where you can walk across the suspension bridge to have a full view of the castle and the hillside surrounding it. Words escaped me when I saw the castle. It’s truly a fairy tale castle standing tall and gleaming with the striking countryside as the backdrop. However, the inside of the castle was telling a different story; it was dark and depressing. You would need your imagination to picture the grandeur of this enchanted castle in its glorious days.
Lakes and mountains were in store for us as we drove through the Alps. We stopped at Titisee in the Black Forest region. This lake is fed by the Feldberg glacier and it’s the home of the world-famous cuckoo clocks. We took this opportunity to walk around the area and learned about the cuckoo clocks from some of the shopkeepers. It was very tempting to bring those clocks with me. We also tasted the best black forest cake ever here. I wish I could bring back some of those cakes too. Of all the lakes we saw, we had the best experience at Konigssee in the Berchtesgaden National Park. A must-do is the short boat ride to St. Bartholomew church. The astounding contrast of the red-roof top of the church and the surrounding snow-capped mountains created this amazingly magical place. I didn’t want to leave this place and hopefully, we can be back in the future to hike the trails to neighboring Austria.
I was happy that this itinerary includes a trip to the top of the highest mountain in Germany. We reached the 2962-meter high Zugspitze by a 75-minutes cogwheel train ride from Garmisch-Partenkirchen to Gletscherbahn station on the Zugspitz Plateau, and then a 5-minute cable car ride to the summit. The cogwheel train is specially designed to go on a steep grade, and it’s an experience not to be missed. The equally thrilling experience was the cable car running practically vertical from the summit down to Eibsee station. Other activities worth considering are having lunch at the restaurant on the summit and walking a short distance to the Austria side of the mountain. The high altitude did get the best of me, and I ended with a headache and shortness of breath. Luckily, that was our only destination of the day, and I was able to sleep it off on the way to the hotel.
We stopped at a few major cities and medieval towns along the journey, such as Frankfurt, Munich, Nuremberg, and Rothenburg ob der Tauber. The cities consist of buildings with modern and old picturesque architecture. The city halls, music halls, churches, gardens, museums, palaces, and even the cobblestone streets all seem fascinating. We were lucky to be there to experience the German Christmas markets, especially the largest and famous Nürnberger Christkindlesmarkt (Nuremberg). Everything looked and smelled festive. The mouthwatering Christmas goodies were calling our names. A variety of cookies and bread, roasted nuts, sausages, fries, crepes, popcorns, chocolates, and drinks. My favorite was the German Glühwein (hot spiced wine). It felt comforting and soothing after drinking it in the cold winter night at the market. I’ll have to start making those at home.
Reflections and tips:
My first group tour was better than I thought it would be since I started with an open mind. We met some nice people and made new friends along the way. It’s not easy traveling with a group of strangers, just relax and enjoy the journey. After all, you are on vacation.
I enjoyed this trip because we were able to spend a lot of free time roaming the area after a brief introduction by the tour guide. Picking a tour that suits your interest is important. My mom was able to find a group tour that offered more outdoor activities in nature, which I enjoyed. We were able to clock in at 10,000 to 15,000 steps most days.
We sought out unique experiences in each destination and enjoyed them as best as we could in the time allocated. We tried to walk a little farther to less crowded areas.
Don’t be afraid to travel during the cold or winter season. We didn’t encounter any adverse weather and was rewarded with less crowd and breathtaking scenery.
Spending time enjoying a new country with my mom. Priceless!
Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.
Trips and vacations are so much more. These experiences show you what’s possible and challenge you to examine the paths you’ll take in the future.
Blake Mycoskie, Founder of TOMS Shoes
Vacation, noun: a period spent away from home or business in travel or recreation. Synonym: break, holiday, leave, trip, and to me the time to experience the wonder of this world. Vacation planning is probably my favorite thing to do. It gives my mind the freedom to daydream and transform that into reality. After years of vacation planning for my family and friends, I have devised a process that I follow each time to ensure a successful and stress-free vacation.
Step 1: Picking the destination. This is the most fun and yet challenging step, especially if you have a big travel group to plan for. Often, where you are going depends on who you are traveling with, a couple getaway might be different than a family or friends’ trip. Here are some ideas that I have used to choose our destination.
Family members take turns to pick a place such as our Europe vacation (a graduation choice by my daughter).
Just go to where you can get cheap air tickets. Our most recent Australia trip happened because of both cheap air fare and on our to-do list.
Careful consideration should be given to the time of year the vacation is planned. Do you care if it’s the rainy season, snowing, sweltering heat, or crowded because of school holidays?
Step 2: Research and planning. This is the most time consuming and yet crucial step. A well-researched and well-planned trip will go a long way to avoid disappointment and stress later in the trip.
The first thing I do is to research the prices of airfares or cruise fares and lodging to come up with a budget for the trip. Having a budget motivates me to find the best deals, and keeps me on task to decide on the splurge items. For airfares, I generally start with Google Flights or Expedia and then go to the individual airline website to compare fares. I also look at all the different airports in the vicinity and find one that offers the best options as far as pricing, frequency of flights and ease of getting ground transportation. Lodging is the other big-ticket item but there are plenty of options out there now to suit everyone’s travel style. As a family, we always prefer Airbnb type lodging over hotel rooms. Some of the websites I use are Airbnb, VRBO, HomeAway, Expedia, and TripAdvisor. I pay special attention to the locations, reviews and ratings, service fees and other charges; and cancellation policy.
What is the purpose of the trip? Are you visiting for a specific reason? Find out everyone’s interest and the must-do and see in the area. Having a budget early on will help you to decide on what to splurge. For example, for our most recent trip to Australia, we rented apartments and able to save money by preparing our breakfasts and/or lunches and splurge on dinner. We also did most of the self-guided tour of the area and splurge on guided activities such as Harbor Bridge Climb. For our Europe cruise, we saved money by arranging our tours instead of using cruise excursions and able to visit places of our choice. It’s also helpful to note the cost of entrance fees and line up activities that are popular or hard to book.
Rent a car or public transportation? This is dependent on the travel party and destination. For example, for our Taiwan trip, we hired a driver and a car because it is cheaper and relieve the headache of maneuvering the confusing streets and hard to come by parking spots. We opted for public transportation in New York City since the subway system is amazingly convenient. We typically walk whenever and wherever we can, a good way to exercise during a vacation to offset the food we consumed. If we do decide to drive, I would find out the parking situation ahead of time to ease the stress of looking for one.
Of course, if you decide to use an organized group or private tour agency, you can skip a lot of the above research. But then, you will be missing all the fun!
This is also the step to ask yourself these questions. Is your passport up to date? Do you need a visitor visa? What is the driver’s license requirement if driving and renting a car? Is there a vaccination requirement? Set up a timeline to get these done on your plan.
Step 3: Finalize itinerary. After all the planning, it is time to put everything down on the spreadsheet, share with family or friends, make changes and finalize the plan. I usually list down all the possible activities for a destination and pick from it during our trip, depending on our mood for the day. Just make sure to leave some open or rest days on your itinerary to accommodate for change of plans.
Step 4: Preparation for the upcoming trip. At least two to three weeks before the trip;
Finalize all the bookings and print out if needed, place in a folder along with other travel documents.
Set up vacation mail holds with the post office.
Prepare the packing list.
Download apps for travel. I use TripIt to keep all the travel documents, SmartReceipts to keep track of all the spending, Currency for quickly looking up currency exchange rate, Lyft or Uber or similar ride share app, Mobile Passport where you can fill out immigration information for faster entry, WhatsApp or similar app for communication, local maps, and any game apps as necessary.
Will you have cell service for your phone? Will you be using your phone for direction or rent a GPS?
Decide on whether to use credit cards or cash.
Find a house sitter or someone to check on your house.
Leave your itinerary with a friend.
Have emergency contact handy.
Find out the closest embassy/consulate at your destination.
Find out how to call for emergency help at your destination.
Step 5: Bon Voyage. You have done all the hard work. It is now time to breathe, relax, and start the long-awaited adventure!
I love travelling full stop – so while I’ve had some harrowing instances, I never look at them negatively. Memories are made when you’re travelling – not when you’re chained to your desk.
After months of anticipation, we finally made our way across the ocean and stepped onto the land down under. We were greeted with blue skies and sunshine right off the bat that energized us despite the long flight. The view from above was amazing, with miles and miles of sparkling sea and the equally beautiful coastlines. Our itinerary was simple with three main destinations, which includes city walks, National Parks and beaches.
Brisbane, the sunny, capital city of Queensland. We arrived in Brisbane bright and early after a long flight from Los Angeles. We’ve decided to rent a car so we could utilize Brisbane as the base for our Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast travels. Driving on the opposite side of the road though, was an adventure in itself. The city center is situated by the Brisbane River with a well-maintained paved pedestrian and bicycle walkway and beautiful scenery. We stayed in the South Bank area and is an easy walk to the city with plenty of restaurants nearby. The city also offers an array of activities that span from museums and art galleries to rock climbing or bridge climb. We visited the Queensland Museum, enjoyed the sun at Streets Beach and did some rock climbing by the river.
We, of course, wanted to see the koalas and kangaroos and opted to visit Australia Zoo, which is the home of the crocodile hunter Steve Irwin. It is a wonderful place to learn about the different animals found in Australia. What we like about this zoo is that the visitors are offered opportunities to interact with the animals. We were able to touch and took pictures with lizards, snakes, koalas; and kangaroos. The crocodile show is not to be missed and during the show, we were taught how to avoid deadly encounters with crocodiles.
We had planned on a visit to the Gold Coast Hinterland but stopped short by the forest fires in the area. We ended up driving northbound about two hours to Noosa Heads on the Sunshine Coast and hiking the trails of Noosa National Park. It was a wonderful hike with marvelous views. Noosa was voted as our favorite destination for this trip. The sun, cafes, shops, and beaches created a soothing vacation vibe. We wished we had more time than just a day trip there.
Airlie Beach, Heart of the Reef. After spending a few days in Brisbane, we headed to Airlie Beach, a resort town and gateway to the Whitsunday Islands National Park which is a part of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. We picked this destination to explore the Great Barrier Reef area because it’s less crowded compared to Cairns. The September weather was warm during the day and cool in the evening. However, during the week that we were there, the wind gust was strong with big swells and waves at sea. We were drenched and holding on to dear life on board the tall ship Providence V when we set sail for the Whitsunday Islands. It was an experience not for the faint of heart and especially not for those with motion sickness. After what seemed like an eternity, the captain decided to turn back, which he later said had never happened before. We tried again a couple of days later with better sea conditions and were rewarded with an incredible time on the island. We anchored off the beach of Whitsunday Island, which is the largest of the 74 islands in the Whitsundays. We walked up to Hill Inlet lookout and admired the stunning colors caused by the swirling sand, exfoliated our skin with the pure white silica sand on Whitehaven Beach, snorkeled and saw the corals and colorful fish. The kayaking trip we did departing from Shute Harbour to White Rock was another highlight of our adventure. It was quite a workout because of the currents in some parts of the route but we had beautiful weather, a friendly guide and we even spotted a turtle coming up for air. It was the perfect ending to our Whitsundays adventure.
Sydney, the harbour city and home of the iconic Sydney Opera House. Our last destination for this trip to see the iconic Sydney Opera House and climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge. We were again welcomed with perfect weather for this leg of our journey. We enjoyed walking in the Royal Botanic Garden, seeing the Opera House up close and from above, visiting the Rocks Markets and shopping at the old Queen Victoria Building and the adjacent Westfield. The highlight was hands down climbing the Harbour Bridge with BridgeClimb Sydney. When we were at the top, it seemed like we could see as far as New Zealand.
It was a short two weeks to get a taste of what Australia offers and to spend some time with family and friends in the area. We will definitely be back again to see the rest of Australia in the future. Here are some tips I learned from this trip:
September is winter/spring-ish in Australia but temperature varies from region to region. Check the weather before you travel. We wore short sleeves shirts and shorts almost all the time with a light jacket for early mornings and evenings.
Water temperature is still cooler in September and wet suits are recommended if staying in water for a long period of time such as snorkeling.
Don’t forget your sunscreens regardless of time of year you visit.
Tipping is not mandatory in Australia. We did find the restaurant service a little slow at times but people were friendly.
Don’t forget your driver’s license if you plan on renting a car. There are a lot roundabouts and it can be confusing for US drivers. We went in the wrong way once and had a scare.
We are all travelers in the wilderness of this world, and the best we can find in our travels is an honest friend.
Robert Louis Stevenson
It has been a while since I traveled back to my hometown in Sabah, Malaysia. Sabah is located in the northern part of Borneo Island. A state surrounded by islands off the coast, plenty of sandy beaches, coconut trees, lush rainforests, beautiful sunsets, amazing food, and friendly people. I grew up in Kota Kinabalu, the state capital which is located on the west coast of Sabah. I have been talking to my friends about climbing the highest mountain in Malaysia, Mount Kinabalu since we met maybe about twenty years ago. We were finally able to coordinate everyone schedules and made the trip together in February. We have gone on hikes and camping trips but this marked our first trip together for two weeks. The highlight of our trip was summiting Mount Kinabalu at 4095 meters (13435 ft.). It was a gruesome two-day hike/climb to reach the summit from 1866 meters (6122 ft.) but we made it despite the difficulty with minor altitude sickness and lack of sleep. With the beautiful islands nearby, we decided to try scuba diving and there’s definitely going to be an under the sea adventure in the future. We also spent our off days wandering around the streets of downtown Kota Kinabalu and trying out all the different street food and local delicacies. We had a blast and our final destination was Nexus Resort Karambunai which is a beachside resort about 30 km (18 miles) north of Kota Kinabalu. This was supposed to be the ‘relax by the pool’ part of our vacation, but there were so much to do at the resort. We spent time kayaking in the mangroves, watching the sunset and luring the fireflies to come out and play, learning to use a blowpipe, adventure fishing with interference from the monitor lizards that live on the grounds of the resort, cooking local food with the chef, yoga by the beach, a relaxing massage at the spa and a bonfire to top it all off. The staff at the resort was amazing and kept us entertained and happy for the duration of our stay.
I was proud to show off my hometown to my friends and happy to see the development and improvement done throughout the years. I love nature and outdoors the most and with the little time we had we were only able to experience a small part of the state and in the future I would like to experience the turtle island, hiking in the rainforest and searching for waterfalls, cave exploration, and many more. Good friends are hard to come by and good friends you can travel with and be crazy with are even harder to find. So go and have fun, and don’t be afraid to try out new things.
Throughout this trip, I think we learned something new about each other and that we have similar values in terms of traveling and immersing ourselves in the culture and mingle with the locals. Our priorities are different than a lot of the tourists who would just be there, took pictures and left. I hope you find some inspiration to go out there and create new experiences for yourselves.
I would like to take this opportunity to show my appreciations to the following people:
Thank you to my friends who encouraged me along the way and carried my pack up the mountain when I was losing steam especially to Howard and Sam.
Thank you, Howard, Kim, Trudy, Sam, Jessilyn, Richard, Carol, and my husband Danny for all the photo contributions and a grand old time.
Thank you to my aunties, uncles, cousins, friends who met with me during this trip. I hope to see you all again soon.
Thank you to our mountain guides, Lawrence and Bonny, our diving instructors Dixon Davies and Fai; and all the wonderful staff at Nexus Resort.
The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.
― Eleanor Roosevelt
It has been a couple of years since we last visited Taiwan. Taiwan is a small island country with friendly people, mouth-watering local cuisines, and a plethora of exciting outdoor experiences. A perfect combination for any traveler and outdoor enthusiast. For those who have been following my blog, you probably know that roaming in a modern city is not my traveling style. I like old towns with colorful cultures and unique architectures, but most of all I want to immerse myself in the natural beauty of the place and challenge myself (and sometimes my family) with new experiences. I crave for the fresh air and serenity of the outdoors. With my new-found passion for rock climbing, I searched high and low on the internet for a place to climb in Taiwan and found Longdong (龍洞), situated at the Northeast corner of the country. I was drawn to this place because of the rock formation and its proximity to the ocean. Words can’t describe what I felt when I actually arrived and saw the place. The blue sky and water are just pure bliss. After months of research, I finally found Qxadventures, the rock climbing guide service in Longdong. Choosing a good and qualified guide/instructor for rock climbing is no small feat. You can check out my tips at the end of this post for choosing a guide.
Qxadventures is owned by a couple of rock climbers, QX and his wife Kelly, originally from Singapore. Maybe I am biased because of my root in the neighboring country Malaysia or maybe it’s the passion for climbing that I felt from perusing their website, I just had a gut feeling that they are the right people for this trip. I then enlisted my brother-in-law, his brother, and two other friends to join in the fun. Since this is their first time rock climbing, we decided to split into two groups. Kelly led the beginners and I went with QX for one-on-one instruction/guiding. It was a sunny and hot day (temperature is probably close to the 80’s) even though it’s November. I am glad we chose to come on a weekday and awarded with the crags to ourselves the whole day. We started at the School Gate area and after a couple warmup climbs, QX and I split off from the group and headed to the Music Hall area. I think we were only about an hour and a half since we arrived at the crag but I was starting to feel weak and light headed from the glaring sun. It was about a 30-minute hike between the two areas and I had to just lie down under the shade until the dizziness passed. I was glad to have my Nuun tablets with me to give me the boost to go on. We must have stopped and rested for about 45 minutes until I came ‘alive’ again. During that time I had some good conversations with QX and learned more about them and their passion to improve the quality and service to the climbing community, and help create awareness for the public to take care of our environment so that the future generations can still enjoy what Mother Nature provided.
I have not been climbing or hiking a lot since my knee injury in August. After quite a few physical therapy sessions and a resting period, I was able to hike up Mount Washington back home which is 8.5 miles roundtrip with a 3250 feet elevation gain hike. The Longdong climb was another test and I was ecstatic that I did not experience any pain during my climb. The sandstone cliffs here are amazing sights to see, and I love listening to the waves hitting the rocks during the climbs. These climbs were the highest I had done and perching on the ledge admiring the scenery from above was unbelievably soothing. It felt like home and I didn’t want to come back down.
What’s a better way to live life to the fullest than to do what you are passionate about every day and to live life with a purpose? Those who know me know that I don’t give recommendation lightly unless I felt strongly about something or someone; and I do highly recommend climbing with Qxadventures while you are there. Meeting QX and Kelly during this trip truly gave me something more to chew on than just a rock climbing experience. Thank you for teaching me new climbing skills and opening my eyes to the myriad possibilities out there.
Here are the tips I promised:
Do your research by searching the internet for reviews, reach out to the relevant community or group often on Facebook for recommendations.
Ask all the questions before committing and know what you want to accomplish during the trip.
During any activity, know your limits and listen to your body for a safe and pleasant experience.
In family relationships, love is really spelled T.I.M.E. – Dieter F. Uchtdorf
Ever since our kids were little, we have been taking family vacation almost every year during their summer holidays. I treasure those moments we spent together and once in a while I would get reminders from my Facebook notifications on those fun times. However, this year with all of our work schedules, we were not able to take the same time off for our annual family vacation. Instead, we took time to hike, climb, watch movies and binge on Netflix series at home. This post is a tribute to all those moments that we captured from some of our vacations throughout the years. I hope this will provide some ideas and inspiration for your next family vacation.
2017 Road trip to Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. I wrote a few posts about this trip, please check them out if you are interested. We totally immersed ourselves in the outdoors during this trip.
Marveling at the mountains and glaciers atop the Plain of Six Glaciers hike
Enjoying some gelato/ice cream in the streets of Taormina, Sicily
An epic trip to the Acropolis!
Waking up to a beautiful morning in Taroko National Park, Taiwan
2015 Visiting family in Malaysia and Taiwan. We try to do this often so the kids are familiar with their ancestry and spending time with relatives.
Tea plantation and Thousand Island Lake, Taiwan
A cultural tour to Penang, Malaysia
2014 Road trip to National Parks – Crater Lake, Redwood, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Yellowstone. Another awesome adventure marveling at what Mother Earth had created.
The Narrows in Zion National Park
Lake Powell, Page, Arizona
Yellowstone National Park – Grand Prismatic Spring
2013 Maui and Big Island, Hawaii. Relaxed by the beach, surfing, sun bathing and doing nothing and everything.
Looking at the lava flow from the helicopter
Banyan trees in Maui
First try at surfing in Maui
2012 Eastern Caribbean Cruise and New York City. We loved our Disney Cruises when the kids were younger and we had spent quite a few of them with our close friends. You can’t go wrong with Disney!
New York City
2011 We had our spring break in the Mexican Riviera aboard the Disney Cruise. It was a fun trip with zip-lining and kayaking. Our family visited in the summer and we toured around Seattle, Mount Rainier National Park, Olympic National Park and picking berries in Port Angeles.
The home turf
Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park
Zip-lining in Puerto Vallarta
2010 For this Malaysia trip, we consumed a lot of yummy local food and brought the kids to the place I lived for the first few years of my life. They loved playing in the sandy beach and swimming in the ocean. In Taiwan, we visited the southern most tip, Kenting National Park .
Local satay in Malaysia – yum yum
One of the places I grew up in
Tanjung Aru beach, Sabah, Malaysia
Prior to 2010, we visited Disneyland and Disney World, cruise to the Western Caribbean, Alaska Cruise and we also camped almost every year. Aside from longer summer vacations, we also tried our hardest to take short trips or getaways to places close by. Here are some tips for your travels and I hope you find some inspiration for your next adventure.
I love planning for trips and with good planning, that means less stress during the trip.
To save money on plane tickets for international travels, I usually combine visits to the stopover cities. For example, we always combine Malaysia and Taiwan because with EVA airline there is a direct flight from Seattle to Kuala Lumpur with a stopover in Taipei.
I also check out plane tickets way ahead of time and it helps to be familiar with ticket prices so you know when to execute.
Do lots of homework if you are looking for lodging with Airbnb or similar websites. I read reviews from all sources possible to determine if it’s trustworthy.
As a family, we don’t like set tours and places that are too crowded, although in some places you won’t have a choice. In recent years, we did less urban travels and more outdoors or unique experiences.
Don’t be afraid to try out all the local cuisines and experience the unique cultures.
During long trips, leave room for a rest day or rest period. Some days we just stay in the hotel or vacation home and watch tv.
My husband and I believe that travel is the best education and we want to give that life education to our children. What they experienced and saw from our travels open their eyes and let them appreciate more of what they have in the United States. We will probably have less of family travels in the future but I will still continue that journey and see more of our world with my husband and my friends. I wish you all a happy summer!
It’s been a couple of weeks since we came back from our first visit to China. We started in Beijing and did the usual tourist attractions. Luckily it was still the low tourist season so it was not as crowded as it would be later in the summer. Even with the rich history in all those places, my favorite was hiking the Great Wall, which you can read about in my last post. Another highlight was the side trip we took to Pingyao Ancient City (平遥古城) and the nearby Mian Mountain (绵山).
When we travel, we generally like to get away from the city and visit the smaller towns/villages or the countryside. After a little searching on the internet and consulting with a tour agency I found Pingyao Ancient City, a UNESCO world heritage site, with well-preserved city wall and buildings. Pingyao started out as a financial/banking center in the old days and it was fascinating visiting those old bank buildings. Other than banks, you will find the old equivalent of the courthouse, temples, and old courtyard houses with traditional Chinese architecture. Pingyao is also famous for its vinegar and alcohol. I’m not into alcohol so I did not try it but we had a few dishes with vinegar and I had to buy a few bottles to bring home. Yes, they make wonderfully aromatic aged vinegar and I never thought that vinegar could smell this good. The city itself is enclosed by city walls on all sides. The entrances to the city close at different times of the day so for convenience, most people eventually move out of the city and live on the outer skirts. For those who are still living in the city, they generally operate the tourist trinket shops, hotels, restaurants, and bars converted from the old courtyard houses. We stayed in one of the courtyard houses that used to house the government officials. We were probably one of the two groups staying there at the time and the nighttime can be a little eerie. However, we enjoyed walking on the quiet streets early in the morning.
tricky narrow street to maneuver
the city wall
view of the city from the city wall
front view of our hotel
witnessing a beautiful sunset on the quiet street
Mian Mountain is about an hour car ride from Pingyao Ancient City. Once arrived, we bought the entrance tickets which include hop-on-hop-off bus rides throughout the scenic routes. This travel website is the only one I found with a good map of Mian Mountain. Mian Mountain is the birthplace of Qing Ming Festival or Tomb-Sweeping Day in English. It has a rich and long history with it’s many Buddhist and Taoist temples and beautiful natural scenery. It is a place where the people come to worship and pay respects to the gods and soak in the positive energy the mountain has to offer. Our first stop was Shuitao Valley, a scenic route with streams and waterfalls. We then visited the YunFeng Temple, Sky Bridge, and Daluo Taoist Temple. I’m always amazed by how people built these temples in the old days. They are all either inside and through caves or hanging by the cliff sides. This is just a quick glimpse of the Chinese history and culture. It would probably take about a week to fully immerse yourself and enjoy all the attractions in the area. I hope one day we will return and see more of this mountain.
Shuitao Valley – there’s a cave inside the water curtain
YunFeng Temple is an old Buddhist temple partially in a cave
The Z-shape ladder by the cliff
Sky Bridge – temples with statues of Taoist gods displayed
Ever since I was a young child, I have learned about the Great Wall of China through Chinese History class and Chinese songs. When I finally stepped foot on it, the thoughts of the people who were there hundreds of years ago flooded through my mind. How did they do it without the modern day equipment and technologies? Did they know that it was a trip of doom? That they would never see their families again? Was one of them my ancestor? So many unanswered questions and all I could do was to soak in the atmosphere and marvel at the scenery.
We hiked the Jinshanling (金山岭) section the first day and a small section of Gubeikou (古北口) the next day. The most popular section is Badaling (八达岭) because of it’s proximity to Beijing and steps that are less steep compared to others. You will find a lot of tour buses and a sea of people in this part of the Great Wall. The peak season for visitors in China is between April 1st and October 31st. So March is the perfect time for us with cool temperature and less crowd. We were basically the only people hiking at the time so we took our time to truly enjoy the journey.
The Jinshanling entrance is about a two-hour hour car ride from Beijing. We started at Zhuanduokou from the Main (Mid-gate) entrance of Jinshaling and hike eastward to the East entrance at Dongwuyanlou (or East Five-window Tower). The total miles recorded on my GPS is 4.3 miles with 1590 ft. elevation gain and took us a little over three hours because of the various photo stops.
We went on a day right after a snow day so the air was clean and sky clear. We could see far into the mountains and the long long wall. I think we passed through 3 passes, 17 towers, and 3 crenels which were all amazing. There are a lot of steep inclines and tall steps in this section of the wall. It takes extra effort to climb up those stairs especially for people with shorter legs like me. Often times we also had to scramble up the stairs because they are basically vertical.
You’ll never know to go up or down in the towers
More to climb but first a nice picture to capture the moment
Another steep climb
A long hike to the other tower
Those steep steps!
What a view!
After the hike, we stayed overnight at Gubei Watertown. It is situated at the foot of the Simatai Great Wall section where they light up the wall at night for a night tour. We arrived at the wall after a cable car ride up and a short walk. The town itself is pretty both at night and during the day. Although, if it’s not necessary I wouldn’t stay overnight because hotels are rather pricey.
Simatai Great Wall
View of Simatai Great Wall from Gubei Watertown
The next morning we headed over to Gubeikou Great Wall for another hike. This is the wild, unrestored side of the wall and paths are narrow at times. It was windy up there and my husband did not feel comfortable walking on the narrow paths without any barriers. I ended up walking a short distance and turned back.
Gubeikou Great Wall
The narrow path at Gubeikou
The narrow and unrestored path at Gubeikou
Hiking the Great Wall is definitely an experience to remember and I would like to possibly complete the whole Great Wall from beginning to end in the future.
Tips for hiking the Great Wall:
Do some research on the different sections and choose according to your comfort level.
For the Jinshanling section, a pair of good and sturdy tennis shoes is fine but preferably hiking boots for the Gubeikou section.
Bring lots of water, the Jinshanling section is well maintained and restrooms are available (may not be opened during the low season).
Go during early hours or late in the afternoon if you want to avoid crowds.
Get an English speaking guide (or any other language) if you are not comfortable going on your own.
The mountains are calling and I must go. ~ John Muir
I couldn’t have agreed more with this famous John Muir quote. The mountains are magical. I love the feeling of being high up soaking in the sun, the air and just breathe in the surrounding. During our recent Banff trip, we decided to experience the highly recommended Mount Norquay via ferrata. Via ferrata means ‘iron road’ in Italian. There are steel cables secure to the mountain/rock with steel bolts and when you climb you will be attached to the cable at all times. At Mount Norquay, they offer several routes with different lengths, heights and difficulty levels. We did the 4 hour ‘Ridge walker’ route which was just right for our first time climbing. My husband is afraid of height so we were being conservative just in case he couldn’t do it. Our route includes some steep hikes, a suspension bridge and lots of climbing.
The first challenge – the suspension bridge
One of the steep climbs
Reaching the first rest stop
Water, snack break and enjoying the view
Our guide was absolutely wonderful in making sure that we were safe the whole time. After this trip, I fell in love with climbing. Nothing beats the feeling of being able to suspend yourself by the cliff and marveling at the creations below your feet. We all enjoyed this activity so much that we didn’t want it to end. Next stop, the via ferratas at the Italian Dolomites, maybe?
Beautiful view from the top
At the top of the ridge walker route at about 8000 feet.
Some tips before you go:
If you are afraid of heights, know your limits. Maybe try the shorter route. The guides are really nice and they will do their best to take care of you if they aware of your condition.
Hiking poles are definitely a plus for those steep sections especially for the hike downhill.
Bring water, snacks, extra clothing and rain jackets and wear sturdy hiking shoes/boots. It is breezy up on the mountain and weather can change quickly. A storm was heading our way when we were at the top but the ground crews and the guide were in constant contact to assess it and made plan to get us down quickly if needed.