A Budget Getaway to Bangkok, March 2015

Bangkok, just 2 hours 30 minutes away by air from Singapore, is a popular holiday destination for my fellow countrymen.  I know of many who go there often, once every year or even once every few months, to take advantage of the comparatively stronger Singapore dollar to shop, eat & massage to their heart’s content.  Well, I must admit, I don’t belong to this gang, because the last I visited Bangkok was about 12 years ago, & somehow there was no compelling reason for me to visit Krung Thep (known locally by the Thais), meaning the “City of Angels”, over other destinations. :P

This time, the opportunity to visit Bangkok came about because of the following reasons:

  • cheap Jetstar promotion airfare to Bangkok;
  • a complimentary night stay in any overseas Millennium & Copthorne group hotel expiring on 31 March; and
  • the city was close enough for a 3D2N getaway within what we could afford in terms of time & money!

So off we flew to the City of Angels for a 3D2N shop/eat/massage holiday last week. ;)  Below is what I’ll be covering in my upcoming posts on the short trip:

Day 1: Arrived at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi (pronounced “Suwannaphum”) Airport and checked in to Grand Millennium Sukhumvit Bangkok hotel.  Had lunch at Terminal 21 shopping mall as well as explored this unique mall.  Early dinner at Audrey Cafe & Bistro which serves European and Thai dishes with a twist.  Ended the day with a relaxing foot massage at Healthland Spa.

Day 2: Checked in Glow Pratunam hotel and headed directly to Platinum Shopping Mall for retail & food therapy.  After that, walked to Central World Plaza & enjoyed afternoon tea at the After You cafe there.  We also prayed at the nearby Erawan Shrine (undergoing restoration at the point of visit but still open to public), & continued to walk to Siam area to check out malls around there.  Finally returned to the hotel for traditional Thai massage before retreating to our room to rest after a long day.

Day 3: Woke up early in the morning to visit the busy Pratunam market just a stone’s throw from the hotel. After breakfast in the hotel, it was time to leave for the airport.

From my summary above, I bet you must be thinking the trip was really short & we didn’t seem to cover many places ya?  Actually we had to make some changes to our initial plan due to bad weather, hence we could have covered a few more places. :(  We were caught in a flash flood (had to walk back to hotel from Terminal 21 & it was flooded up to my knees -_-“) on the first day when there was a heavy downpour that lasted about 1 hour, so was stuck in the hotel for a few hours & couldn’t explore the Thong Lo district as much as we wanted.  Then on second day evening, it rained so heavily that we gave up searching for a recommended massage parlour near the hotel & settled for massage at the hotel instead. :(  Well, I guess it’s a good excuse to cover worthwhile places that we missed this round in our next trip to Bangkok, isn’t it?  Lol

One tip for would-be travellers to Thailand, you can consider buying a prepaid traveller SIM card upon your arrival at the airport because it’s just so affordable & convenient!  My friend and I each purchased a Traveller SIM 299 Baht (about S$12.80) from the AIS counter just between gates 6 & 7 of Suvarnabhumi airport’s international arrival hall.  The staff will help to insert and activate the SIM card when you purchase at the counter.  Unless you can understand Thai, I suggest you just let the expert help you with the activation.  The SIM card comes with free 7-day unlimited internet, free THB 100 call credit with 30 days validity, & cheap local and international call/ sms rates.

There is another provider called DTAC that sells a similar prepaid SIM card called Happy Tourist SIM 299, offering the same benefits.  Not sure which provider gives better coverage though it didn’t really matter to us when we only roamed in the city.  You won’t miss these 2 counters which are next to each other, because there would surely be many travellers queuing to buy the SIM cards, just like the situation when we arrived early in the morning before 9am. ;)

So, do stay tuned for my upcoming posts soon! :D

Categories: Asia, Bangkok, Thailand | Leave a comment

Mount Yuelu (岳麓山) and Aiwan Pavilion (爱晚亭)

Time flies, we were left with the last 2 attractions to visit in Changsha before we would return to home sweet home that evening.  Both the attractions are located in the same area, west of Changsha (湘西) where Hunan University is.

Although one of the attractions is a “mountain” by name, our tour guide joked with us that after seeing so many magnificent mountains and natural landscape in Zhangjiajie, Mount Yuelu (岳麓山) is really nothing in comparison, as its main and highest point – Yuelu peak, is only 300m above sea level.  Mount Yuelu is known for its many scenic spots, including Qingfeng Gorge (清风峡), Aiwan Pavilion (爱晚亭), Lushan Temple (麓山寺), Yunlu Palace (云麓宫), the White Crane Spring (白鹤泉) and the Flying Stone (飞来石).

Yuelu Mountain

The eco-bus that brought us up to the foot of the mountain, together with sights we saw up on the mountain

As the weather was as hot as the day before, at about 37-38 degrees celsius, upon hearing that big coaches were not allowed in the Mount Yuelu compounds and we had to walk about 45 minutes from the entrance of Hunan university to the mountain, all of us decided to pay RMB 30 (about S$6.10) for a 2-way trip on the eco-bus.  The ride only took about 10 minutes and it was great to escape from all the possible perspiration if we had walked all the way up. :P

Indeed, the scenery here pales in comparison to the spectacular landscape in Zhangjiajie.  In fact only my friend and I decided to continue our way up the mountain while the rest decided to rest and wait for us near the foot of the mountain due to the horrible weather.  Both of us also gave up hiking after 15 minutes as it was very warm in the forest and there weren’t any interesting sights further up, even for the unique-looking tree of 130 years old above.

At the foot of the mountain is a statue of Mao Zedong (毛泽东),a Chinese Communist revolutionary and the founding father of China.  There was a student representative standing by the statue, helping visitors to take photos with Chairman Mao for RMB 10.  Visitors are not permitted to take photos together with Chairman Mao on their own, but if it is just a photo of Chairman Mao then it is all right.  So weird. >.<

Statue of Mao Zedong

Statue of Mao Zedong, looks quite real to me

Just a few steps away from the statue is the Aiwan Pavilion (爱晚亭).  It is one of the 4 famous pavilions in China, formerly known as 红叶亭 (Red Leaves Pavilion) when it was built in 1792 during the Qing Emperor – Qianlong period (清乾隆朝代).  In his younger days, Mao Zedong was involved in revolutionary activities at this pavilion.  The plaque in the Aiwan Pavilion was later inscribed by him when they reconstructed the pavilion in 1952.  The pavilion is also a popular spot for filming period dramas.

Aiwan Pavilion

As the quick tour of Mount Yuelu and Aiwan Pavilion ended, it also meant that our 8 days of holiday in Hunan province were to end.  I think the highlight of the whole tour was really those few days in Zhangjiajie, a memorable experience, while Changsha is essentially a city, and literally very hot one, with mostly man-made attractions to showcase its history and culture, but I am not so keen on.

Hope you have gained more information / ideas from reading about my experience, helping you to decide the must-visit attractions should you visit Hunan in future. :)

Categories: Asia, China, Hunan Province | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Exploring Changsha – a Historical and Cultural City

Changsha is the second largest city in central China. It is also the first batch of national historical and cultural cities in China, with 3,000 years of rich history and ancient civilisation.  Hence, most of the attractions here are historical and cultural buildings / monuments, museums and there are hardly any natural attractions.

After 4 days of hiking adventure in Zhangjiajie City, it was back to civilisation to the capital of Hunan province where we finally did not have to walk and use as much energy as the past few days.  Haha.  As it is a long road journey from Zhangjiajie City in the northwestern part of Hunan province back to Changsha, we had to wake up at 5.30am that morning for a 6 hours’ drive back to the capital!  From a cooler Zhangjiajie, we headed back to one of the 3 hottest cities in China (中国火炉之都), and I could see the temperature indicator on our coach soaring as we got nearer to Changsha… :(

By the time we arrived at the first attraction of the day after lunch, it was about 37 degrees celsius!  Fortunately the first stop was at Changsha Bamboo Slips Museum (长沙简牍博物馆), indoor air-conditioned museum. :P


This museum, free admission to visitors with valid identification, houses more than 100,000 bamboo slips and wooden tablets dating back more than 1,700 years, since October 1996.  There are guided tours in the museum, conducted by volunteers and the lady volunteer we got seemed to be someone who is really passionate about the important archeological discoveries housed here.  However, I am really not a history person so I kind of got bored halfway during the tour and wasn’t able to listen anymore haha.  So just a few photos I took while I was still more awake during the tour, for your viewing pleasure. :)

Interestingly, these were the musical instruments in the ancient days. The guide even played a song here to show us ;)

Interestingly, these were the musical instruments in the ancient days. The guide even played a song here to show us ;)

The process of discovering unearthed inscriptions on oracle bones (from top left in clockwise direction)

The process of discovering unearthed inscriptions on oracle bones (from top left in clockwise direction)

The tour ended about 40 minutes later and our next attraction for the day was across the road at Tianxin Pavilion (天心阁).  The admission fee was RMB 18 (about S$3.70) if I am not wrong.  Before we went in, I remembered that the tour guide mentioned that it would take around 45 minutes to tour the pavilion.  However, not sure if it was because of the high temperature and scorching sun, we were only there for around half an hour, including watching a 7-minute long 4D animation film “Battle in Changsha” (关羽战长沙) in the air-conditioned theatre.  Looks like there was nothing much to see at the pavilion except strolling in the sparse garden, but I wondered was it because our tour guide also didn’t want to stay under the sun for too long so she didn’t really bring us around? >.<

Tianxin Pavilion

Last stop for the day, also one that most of us were looking forward to, was the Huangxing Road Commercial Pedestrian Street (黄兴路商业步行街) for some shopping.  It is like Orchard Road in Singapore with many shopping malls and little boutiques, cafes and restaurants.  Our tour guide mentioned that all the shops are fixed priced shops and we do not need to bargain, and as it was the sales period, shopping would be more value for money.

Maybe we set our expectations too high, but after browsing the many stores, we realised things weren’t that cheap, in fact most of them are about the same price as in Singapore, at most just slightly cheaper than us.  So ended up we only bought “branded” China sports apparel and my friend also bought a few boxes of facial masks as she found them cheaper than back home.  Below is a collage of the shots I took of the shopping street, finally see Starbucks after being in Hunan for a week! :P

Huangxing Road

How do I feel about Changsha after touring for about half a day?  Well, I must say it is a very urbanised city and the standard of living here is quite high, compared to the more rural area – Zhangjiajie.  Even during lunch and dinner, we were not served fruits after the meal in Changsha, unlike in Zhangjiajie.  I reckon fruits must be quite expensive in Changsha then? -_-“

I am not a history person, so I admit I wasn’t that fascinated by the museum and pavilion tour haha.  I still prefer sightseeing and hiking to such historical and cultural tour. ;)

Categories: Asia, China, Hunan Province | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon (张家界大峡谷)

The finale to our hiking adventure in Zhangjiajie sounded the most daunting when our tour guide started briefing us the day before on what to expect on day 6 at Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon (张家界大峡谷). She was telling us that there are 4 parts to this attraction, and throughout the journey, we would not have any choice to turn back if we find the way ahead too difficult as visitor traffic is only allowed in 1 direction.  As the park is surrounded by tall and steep cliffs, gorges, caves and lake, the first part of the tour would be to walk down 1,680 steps and there is a part where it is inclined at 80 degrees, i.e. very steep!  The second part is to take a sled ride.  Third, hike on the 3.5km boardwalk for an hour or so, and finally the last part is the easiest, to board a boat and enjoy the scenery.

Some background information on the attraction.  This Grand Canyon is not part of Zhangjiajie National Park.  Instead it is located in Cili County (慈利县), 15km away from Wulingyuan district (武陵源).  It was only officially opened to visitors from 2009 and entrance fee is priced at RMB 120 per adult (about S$24.40), and the boat ride cost an additional RMB 20 per adult (about S$4.10).

With the constant reminders from our tour guide of the steep steps we had to hike on, stressing that if we feel we can’t make it, we should highlight to her as safety is very important, I was kind of worried whether I would be able to make it or not. :P After 3 days of continuous hiking, my legs were already giving way. However, a little voice in me made me decide to give it a shot, since I was already there and I shouldn’t waste the opportunity.  At most, I’d just buy a walking stick to help me with the hiking and relieve the pain on my knees and legs. ;)

Upon arrival at the entrance of the attraction, we had to queue to board an eco-bus that would bring us up to the top of the canyon.  Given that it is a steep-cliff area, before boarding the bus, our tour guide warned that the journey may not be a pleasant one.  So throughout the bus ride, I closed my eyes to prevent myself from getting giddy as it was just after lunch so I didn’t want all the food thrown out.  Fortunately it was a short ride and soon, a young female guide from the park showed us the way down, starting from the 一线天天梯栈道 (A Strip of Sky Stairway) with the 80 degrees inclination.

Gotta watch our steps very carefully when descending the "A Strip of Sky" as you can see how steep it is in the bottom right shot...

Gotta watch our steps very carefully when descending the “A Strip of Sky” as you can see how steep it is in the bottom right shot…

At the beginning of 一线天天梯栈道, the steps were pretty easy like the usual staircases you find in Singapore buildings, then after about 5 minutes or so came the super-steep flight of stairs, which I thought I really took a long time to finish.  By the time I reached the end of that 80-degrees inclined stairway, my t-shirt was soaked, think mainly due to my anxiety and worry in walking down. :P After this it was back to the normal stairway again but they just never seemed to end.  Looking back, the 15-minute journey down the gorge felt like eternity to me lol.

Second part of the tour was to take a sled ride on the man-made slide (人工滑道) down the grand canyon, instead of walking down the cliffs.  We had to wrap a piece of cloth (gunny-sack material) around our buttocks and wear gloves to protect ourselves.

Grand Canyon Sled Ride

Well, we had thought it would be easy sliding down, just like our kiddy days when we played on the slide in the playground.  But gosh it was totally different from what we had imagined.  The gunny cloth on our buttocks created friction and prevented us from moving down smoothly, and we had to constantly use our arms to push ourselves down.  After we reached the end of the slide we were all perspiring like mad again, but there was another slide to go through! No other choice right?  Since we couldn’t turn back like what our tour guide told us. :(  It was only when we were on the second slide then my friend found a better technique to make ourselves slide down faster and smoothly.  Phew! All of us were so glad when the ride was over!

The third part, which was the 3.5km boardwalk was considered easy as it is relatively flat, although it took us slightly over an hour to reach the end of the boardwalk where we would ride on the boat.  The scenery on the boardwalk was heavenly, kind of out-of-the-world and breathtaking!  You have to see it for yourself to believe it. :)


Up close with the waterfall, so refreshing!

Up close with the waterfall, so refreshing & cool!

The Barrel Cliff (圆桶绝壁)

The Barrel Cliff (圆桶绝壁)

灵芝沐浴 (Gyrophora in Shower)

灵芝沐浴 (Gyrophora in Shower)

Wow, this lady even took off her footwear to walk on the stones in the lake...

Wow, this lady even took off her footwear to enjoy a walk on the stones in the lake…

The Waterfall of Butterfly Spring, lovely!

The Waterfall of Butterfly Spring, lovely!

Rainbow just above the water!!

Rainbow just above the water!!

Beautiful emerald crystal clear lake with a miniature glass walk here

Beautiful emerald crystal clear lake with a miniature glass walk here

Fly through the canyon with the "flying fox" (RMB 30)

Fly through the canyon with the “flying fox” (RMB 30) instead of walking

Celestial Water Cataract (天仙水瀑布) - powerful water gushing down like heavy downpour!

Celestial Water Cataract (天仙水瀑布) – powerful water gushing down like heavy downpour!

Bandits Cave (土匪洞)

Bandits Cave (土匪洞)

The boardwalk scenery was so beautiful and tranquil we didn’t want to walk too fast for fear of losing that heavenly feeling soon haha.  Finally we reached the pier where we took a much-awaited relaxing 15-minute ride on the boat on the Lake of Magic Spring (神泉湖) after all the physical hard work for about 2 hours.  I definitely needed the cool breeze to “dry” my t-shirt which had been soaked after descending the 1,680 steps haha.  The scenery was similar to that at the boardwalk so I shan’t bombard you with too many photos again, just 2 photos of the boat and emerald lake.  What a sweet ending to our 4-day hiking adventure in Zhangjiajie! :)



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Tianzi Mountain Nature Reserve (天子山自然保护区) and Yuanjiajie (袁家界景区)

Day 5 was another day of hiking adventure in the Zhangjiajie National Park (张家界国家森林公园) where we had to bring along the plastic admission ticket that we used the day before to enter Ten-Mile Art Gallery and Golden Whip Brook.  If you had read my previous post, you would have remembered we scanned our thumbprints upon entry so that the ticket would have an unique identification code to ensure no one else is able to use our ticket.  We entered the national park via the Wulingyuan gate (武陵源门票站), and at 8+ in the morning, it was already filled with visitors as it was a Saturday + Mid-Autumn Festival long weekend (中秋节长周末).

The first stop of the day was to the peak of Mount Tianzi via the cableway (天子山索道).  Getting to the cableway station was like a prelude to the hiking we would be experiencing later – we had to climb a long flight of stairs (that never seem to end) up to join in the queue.

Showing off my Mount Tianzi Cableway ticket at the entrance of the station

Showing off my Mount Tianzi Cableway ticket at the entrance of the station

Oh, you will need to pay for the cableway ticket (single trip RMB 67, about S$13.60) as it is not included in the national park entrance fee.  If you want to save money on this, then the only way is to climb up to the peak of about 1,200m high as private vehicles such as coaches are not allowed in the park. ;)

We were told by our tour guide to stand close to one another together so as to prevent others from cutting queue.  True enough, we encountered a few instances where some locals would try to tell us their friends were in front and they wanted to join them.  After waiting for less than half an hour, we boarded the cable car, although it felt as if we had been standing there for a long time.  Our tour guide mentioned that this was already considered very good as usually during super peak periods, visitors have to queue for at least 2 hours before they could board the cable car.  Gosh! Don’t think I have such patience to visit the park during super peak periods then…

Views along the short 10 min cableway ride

Views along the short cableway ride, less than 10 minutes

Within walking distance upon arrival at the peak is the He Long Park (贺龙公园) – built to commemorate Marshal He Long (贺龙元帅), one of the founding fathers of China, who was born in a peasant family in the Sangzhi county located west of Mount Tianzi.

He Long Park

The statue of Marshal He Long was constructed in 1986.  With a height of 6.5m and weight of 9 tonnes, it is one of the biggest statues in China built over the past century.  As seen from the photo above, the park’s name was inscribed by retired Chinese politician Jiang Zemin (江泽民) on 28 March 1995 when he was still in office.  This park has several observation decks, from which visitors can get the best views of Mount Tianzi.

Spectacular view of the Stone Peak Forest (石峰林)

Spectacular view of the Stone Peak Forest (石峰林)

Can't get enough of the Stone Peak Forest ^-^

Can’t get enough of the Stone Peak Forest ^-^

It’s pretty amazing how numerous of these towering vertical sandstone peaks were formed over the years to become a forest landscape.  Didn’t know what to say except “WOW” when we saw them repeatedly at the many observation decks in the park. :)  No wonder there is a sign at the park indicating that “you will regret it if you don’t see the scenery (不看此景,终生遗憾)”!

After admiring the spectacular landscape, it was time for some “civilisation” as we were brought to the world’s highest MacDonald’s.  The fast food restaurant is housed in a building that looks like a modern replication of the ethnic houses we see in Zhangjiajie.  Apparently the price of food and beverages at this MacDonald’s is about 30% higher than those found in the city.  Since it was very hot and humid that day, we bought a coke float each to quench our thirst, and it cost RMB 10 (about S$2), so not that expensive if you compare it to the price in Singapore! :P

Thereafter, we boarded a small eco-bus (that was like a roller coaster ride for 40 minutes as it drove through the bendy roads on the mountain) to get to the only restaurant on the mountains that caters to tour groups (so-said the tour guide) for lunch.  She repeatedly reminded us to have a heavier breakfast that morning as the local food in that restaurant may not suit our palates but we would not have alternative choices.  Well, she was indeed experienced enough to predict this.  We did not finish most of the dishes as they were very different from the previous meals and tasted weird to us.  Guess the only food that was more unique yet acceptable for us was the bamboo rice as shown in the photo collage below.

Yuanjiajie restaurant

Never mind about the food, viewing the breathtaking landscape at Yuanjiajie (袁家界景区) was more important after lunch.  Without further ado, I shall let my photos do the “talking” here. :)

Rock Wall - Towering Cliffs (崖壁 - 百丈绝壁)

Rock Wall – Towering Cliffs (崖壁 – 百丈绝壁)

Nature Bridge (天下第一桥) - the tallest natural stone bridge connecting the 2 peaks

Nature Bridge (天下第一桥) – the tallest natural stone bridge connecting the 2 peaks on the east & west. Too crowded till I gave up walking over to the bridge!

Sandstone Forest (砂岩峰林)

Sandstone Forest (砂岩峰林)

Ravine (隘谷)

Ravine (隘谷)

Qian Kun Pillar (乾坤柱), renamed as Avatar Hallelujah Mountain on 25 January 2010

The 1,080m Qian Kun Pillar (乾坤柱), renamed as Avatar Hallelujah Mountain in honour of the eponymous film on 25 January 2010

Huang Village (黄石寨) in the centre - a plateau 1,080m above sea level

A plateau (方山) in the centre

After hiking and jostling with the crowd to take photos for more than 1.5 hours, we were ready to take a ride on the Bai Long Elevator (literally “Hundred Dragon Elevator”, or 百龙天梯).  It holds 3 Guinness Book of World Records – first for being the tallest full-exposure outdoor elevator, second, it is the world’s tallest double-deck sightseeing elevator, and third, it is the world’s fastest passenger traffic elevator with the biggest carrying capacity.  Construction of the elevator began in September 1999, and was in operation in April 2002.  It was manufactured using equipment mainly from a famous German elevator company at a cost of RMB 180 million.  For your information, you need to pay an additional fee of RMB 72 (about S$14.60) to ride on the elevator (one way), it is not part of the national park entrance fee.

View of the beautiful landscape in the elevator

View of the beautiful landscape in the smooth yet fast-moving elevator

The No. 1 Elevator in the World, as claimed from the Chinese phrase 天下第一梯 :)

The No. 1 Elevator in the World, as claimed from the Chinese phrase 世界第一梯 :)

In less than 2 minutes, we descended to the foot of the huge cliffs, travelling 330m downwards.  If we had hiked all the way down, it would have taken an average person 2.5 hours to do so.  Well, there has been some controversy on the construction of this elevator in a world heritage site, due to the potential harm caused to the surrounding landscape. Nonetheless I must say it is a smart and impressive invention by the Chinese.  So this marks the end of our approximately 6 hours of hiking adventure for the day! :)

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Qinghe Jinjiang International Hotel (青和锦江国际酒店), Wulingyuan District

When we booked our tour from the Singapore tour agency, in the itinerary, it specified that we would be staying in the only Avatar-themed 5-star hotel called Qinghe Jinjiang International Hotel (青和锦江国际酒店).  Finally, after 3 nights, we checked-into this hotel, awarded the official 5-star rating from China Tourism Board since 2012.

In front of Qinghe Jinjiang International Hotel

In front of Qinghe Jinjiang International Hotel

Well, the hotel does look more impressive from the minute we arrived compared to the last 3 hotels that we went, but I thought Zhangjiajie Mellow Crystal Hotel (张家界梅洛水晶酒店) was quite similar too, and maybe a bit more modern and tastefully done in terms of decor.  At least they didn’t splash so much gold colour everywhere haha.  Check out my other photos below and I think you will get what I mean on the “gold colour overload” comment. :P

"Glittering" isn't it?

“Glittering” isn’t it? The Chinese would say “金碧辉煌” hehe

Luckily not so glittering here! ;)

Luckily not so glittering here! ;)

OK, glittering gold aside, I think the room here was so far the most spacious and made us feel very comfortable.  Too bad we only stayed on level 3, if not we might have a great unobstructed view of the surrounding mountains.  When we looked out from the window, it was just an empty open space for guests to walk about but we could see the mountain in the background.

The furnishings in the room are pretty standard for a 5-star hotel, but I was quite surprised to see a big chunky TV set lying on top of the cabinet!  Gosh! Remember the days before we had LCD/ LED flat-screen TVs?  I thought that era of TVs are no longer existent, especially in a top-rated hotel like Qinghe Jinjiang?  However, the numerous channels for viewing saved the dinosaur TV. :P  This was the only hotel that has international channels other than their local Chinese channels!  Well, specifically only 2 international channels – BBC and KBS World, but having the latter was like a precious gift to me lol. We even managed to watch 2 episodes of a new Korean drama which I am now following back home.

Supposedly, free wifi is available in the hotel rooms and lobby.  However the wifi signal was really quite weak in the rooms and only at certain spots of the room then could receive some connection, but loading of webpages and images was super slow till I gave up.  The wifi signal at the hotel lobby was better but intermittent at times.  Fortunately the sofa seats at the lobby were very comfortable, so loading of webpages were slow but still bearable haha.  No other major issues at this hotel, except I feel the bed and pillows were a bit too soft for my comfort.

Oh, 1 thing I must mention is the free breakfast for the 2 days we stayed there.  It was wonderful!  Why did I say that?  Because it was the one and only hotel buffet breakfast that really has a wide spread of scrumptious food and beverages.  At least I could finally have my morning toast and tea! :)  You could also have your egg done in different methods, not just sunny side-up, but you could also request for scrambled egg, omelette etc.  The service was also prompt and great.  So I must compliment the hotel for this, at least I had 2 days of happy breakfast and we even made ourselves wake up before the morning call so as to enjoy breakfast at a leisurely pace the next day hehe.


Lastly, the hotel location is also in close proximity to the shops and supermarket, although they also have a convenience store on the ground floor.  Once you exit from the hotel main entrance, just turn right and walk through the side gate and down the street (think it is called Baiyang Street).  Within 5 minutes you would be seeing small eateries and shops along the street.  It is also just 300m away from Zhangjiajie National Park and within 10 minutes’ drive from Baofeng Lake and Yellow Dragon Cave.

On the first night, we also went to the commercial pedestrian street in Wulingyuan district – Xibu Alley (溪布街) as recommended by the hotel staff.  It is about 5 minutes’ taxi ride from the hotel and cost only RMB 10 (about S$2), fixed price not by metre charge.

A brightly lit Xibu Street

A brightly lit entrance to the Xibu Alley

Different views of the tourist street

Different views of the tourist street

As we walked down the steps from the entrance of Xibu Alley, we could see a lot of people, but not as many as we thought given it was a Friday night. There was a big group of locals dancing to some local folk song in the open space, reminded us of the senior citizens who often exercise or dance together at the void decks or open spaces in our residential area in Singapore.  As we walked further down the street, the crowd dwindled and many of the shops did not have any customers.  Most of the shops sold local food products such as black tea, dried fruits and beef, candies etc as well as clothing, accessories and souvenirs.  I realised that for clothing, accessories and souvenirs, you could bargain and slash the price down by more than 50% of their original quoted prices, whereas for food products it was usually fixed price.

Towards the end of the street, there was a sign pointing to the pubs/ bar street by the riverbank but we didn’t go there.  The area was also very quiet in this part of the street where there were mostly the local specialty restaurants and creative galleries.  Read that the company that developed this area invested a total of RMB 300 million, equivalent to S$60.8 million, wow!  Great initiative trying to incorporate the “floating” bar street, China delicacies street, Xiangxi (湘西) souvenir shopping street, leisure inn and creative galleries into this area that is surrounded by the magnificent natural beauty of Zhangjiajie.  However for some strange reasons, the Xibu Alley is not as bustling as expected.  Hope the management would review and work harder to make it a top leisure attraction for visitors to Wulingyuan in the future.

Anyway, enough of sidetracking, overall, Qinghe Jinjiang International Hotel is a great hotel to stay in, despite some of the negative points mentioned above.  Everyone in our tour group felt it was the best so far too, although I think Zhangjiajie Mellow Crystal Hotel isn’t too far behind.  Service was great, not just in the restaurant, but all the staff I encountered were approachable and helpful.  They could speak good and proper English too. No wonder the Avatar film crew stayed here when they were filming in Zhangjiajie, or perhaps the staff’s English standard improved because of Avatar? :P

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Golden Whip Brook (Jinbian Stream, 金鞭溪)

Our last scenic stop for the day was Golden Whip Brook (Jinbian Stream, 金鞭溪), a short bus ride from Ten-Mile Art Gallery, which I talked about in previous post.  Oh, did I mention that within the national park, coaches and private vehicles are not allowed so we can only take the eco-buses (环保车), trams (小火车) or cable cars (索道) etc provided by the park management?  Guess this concept is pretty common across many national parks in the world so as to reduce pollution and congestion.  So from Ten-Mile Art Gallery to Golden Whip Brook we took the eco-bus provided by the park.

The total length of Golden Whip Brook is 7.5km, so to complete a full tour here will take about 2.5 to 3 hours.  It got its name from 1 of the 10 superb views in Zhangjiajie: the Golden Whip Cliff (金鞭岩) that is situated along the stream.  The stream flows through Wulingyuan Scenic Area, surrounded by the beautiful cliffs and ridges, so it is known as being one of the world’s most beautiful valleys.

Picturesque landscape as we entered Golden Whip Brook

Picturesque landscape as we entered Golden Whip Brook

We did not have the luxury of strolling along the tranquil stream for 3 hours, instead our tour guide showed us the primary route of this attraction and gave us only about 1 hour of free and easy time to roam the area.  She mentioned that there are many routes, but visiting the primary route would suffice as we would have seen the best views from that route.

Views along the primary route

Views along the primary route

Random views at Shuiraosimen (水绕四门)

Random views: towering cliff and Shuiraosimen (水绕四门)

Popular scenic spot for taking photos by the stream :)

Popular scenic spot for taking photos by the stream :)

Magnificent photo-stitch view before leaving the Golden Whip Brook compound

Magnificent photo-stitch view before leaving the Golden Whip Brook compound

Looking back at the attraction, it is indeed a beautiful place.  The primary route is pretty easy for visitors, relatively flat compared to the other scenic areas.  Walking along the stream was cool and enjoyable.  I think it was one of the breeziest and easiest hikes for this trip, suitable for me hahaha.  With this attraction “ticked” on the itinerary, it marks the completion of our day 4 adventure!  Yay! :)

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Ten-Mile Art Gallery (十里画廊)

After lunch, we returned to the Wulingyuan Scenic Area (武陵源风景区) for more natural attractions at Ten-Mile Art Gallery (十里画廊).  At first we were wondering how come there is an art gallery in this national park, and it was only till we were at the queue to ride on the tram into the gallery that we realised Ten-Mile Art Gallery is actually a 5.8km scenic road located in the Donggou Gorge (东沟大峡谷), Suoxi Valley Natural Reserve (索溪峪自然保护区).  It got its name because along this road, the natural attractions make one feel like you are viewing an exhibition in the gorge.

When we entered the national park this time, we were each given an admission ticket of credit card size and told to keep it properly as the admission ticket was valid for 2 days (RMB 248, about S$50.30), and we need to use it tomorrow too.  As we queued to enter the park, everyone had to scan and register his/her thumbprint so that when we present the card the next day at the gate, the staff would be able to verify that we are the correct cardholders.  Apparently this high-tech electronic ticketing system was introduced in December 2001, to prevent visitors from sharing or forging tickets.  Read that it is the first of its kind in the world.  Wow, impressive!

Entering the Ten-Mile Art Gallery

Entering the Ten-Mile Art Gallery

Not sure why it is coined “Ten-Mile” when the actual length of this road is only about 3.6 miles?  Given the short distance, the tram ride was only about 10 minutes one-way.  Visitors can choose to stroll along the road instead of taking the tram, and we saw several visitors strolling back to the entrance when we were on the open-air tram.  There was commentary on-board advising passengers the peaks to look out for and what they resemble, for e.g. an elderly man collecting medicine, parents holding the son in their arms, three sisters etc.

The view along the tram ride

The beautiful view seen on the tram ride

If I'm not wrong, this peak resembles a man lighting a cigarette butt? ;)

If I’m not wrong, this peak resembles a man lighting a cigarette? ;)

Taking a photo of the tram after we alighted

Taking a photo of the tram with the picturesque peaks as backdrop after we alighted

Three Sisters Peak

The magnificent Three Sisters Peak

A dedicated area for the monkeys at this gallery

A dedicated area for the monkeys at this gallery

To me, the highlight of this Ten-Mile Art Gallery is the Three Sisters Peak (三姐妹峰), which somewhat reminded me of the Three Sisters at Blue Mountains near Sydney, Australia.  It was also the most photographed sight there because just to take a photo of the signage together with the Three Sisters, I had to wait for such a long time for other visitors to clear for it was almost always crowded!  The other peaks did not impress me as much as I had hoped to, perhaps I had high expectations, or maybe it was pretty similar to the scenery at Baofeng Lake Scenic Area, so I become “immuned” to the beauty haha.  The “Monkey Garden” also did not impress me because I think our reservoirs and nature reserve in Singapore have many more wild monkeys than the gallery has. :P

Nonetheless, Ten-Mile Art Gallery is still a scenic place to visit now that I look back at the photos.  At least the tram ride allowed us to take a breather, relax and enjoy the breeze for a while and not have to use a lot of “leg power” like in other parts of Zhangjiajie. ;)

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Baofeng Lake Scenic Area (宝峰湖风景区)

Baofeng Lake (宝峰湖) is an artificial lake formed in the 1970s by the locals who filled the small faults of the lake with concrete to create a dam to store water.  It is located in Suoxi Valley Natural Reserve (索溪峪自然保护区), part of the Wulingyuan Scenic Area (武陵源风景区) in Zhangjiajie City.  Because of its association with the Baofeng Mountain Range, the lake bears the name of Baofeng.  With an average depth of 72m, Baofeng Lake covers an area of 30 hectares, and can hold 6 million cubic metres of water at full capacity.

We arrived at the Baofeng Lake Scenic Area (宝峰湖风景区) after about 1.5 hours drive from Junsheng  Sandstone Painting Gallery (军声画院).  Our tour guide told us that we would be cruising along the lake for this attraction, BUT there was no lake that we could see upon arrival?  Well, that’s because to get to the boarding point, we would have to walk for at least 30 minutes first, i.e. exercise before we could relax on the boat and enjoy the scenery – 先苦后甜!

Finally reached Baofeng Lake Scenic Area after 1.5 hrs on the road!

Finally reached Baofeng Lake Scenic Area after 1.5 hrs on the road!

No lake in sight at the start point, but only mountain / valley...

No lake in sight at the start point, only surrounded by mountain / forest… >.<

View along the uphill trail to the lake

View along the uphill trail to the lake

Fortunately the trail to the lake was a manmade concrete pavement, but the not so good thing was we needed to walk uphill, i.e. more tiring.  After walking for about 15 minutes, it looked as if the trail had ended, BUT still no lake in sight.  That’s because now we had to climb up and down numerous steps (I forgot how many) before we could get to the lake area for the scenic cruise.  Oh no not again… >.<  Guess we didn’t have any choice anyway, since the lake lies 85m above the ground in the Baofeng Mountain Range, and attains an altitude of 585m.

10 min climb up the numerous steps to the lake

10 min climb up and down the numerous steps to the lake

I didn’t take too many photos during this leg of the journey because 1. I had to concentrate and watch my steps, 2. the view during the climb was very similar to what you see in the right photo above, just the forest and the steps haha.  Fortunately it was just about 10 minutes before we finally reached the boarding point of the lake cruise, but the total exercise time of 40 minutes or so already made me “half-drenched” in my perspiration, so it was really nice and much appreciated to get to the lake!  Hope you can chill by seeing the beautiful photos below too. ;)

Another boat cruising in the opposite direction

Another boat cruising along the lake

Can you tell that this looks like a camel?

Can you tell that this looks like a camel?

Pristine waters, lovely reflection :)

Pristine waters, lovely reflection :)

We came across a few of such houses during the cruise, here the guy (阿哥) appeared as we got a female passenger to cross sing with him ;)

We came across a few of such houses during the cruise, here the guy appeared as we got a female to do a duet with him ;)

I see a lady with a sad & worried face here, do you? ;)

I see a lady with a sad & worried face here, do you? ;)

It was an interesting and interactive 20 minutes on the boat, with the local Tujia lady (阿妹) introducing the beautiful scenery round the lake region.  Sometimes, I think we just have to be a bit wilder with our imagination to be able to see that the “pile of rocks” actually resemble something, e.g. a peacock or fairy? :)  Furthermore, we also passed by a few ethnic houses, like the one you see in one of the photos above, and the 阿妹 would try to get volunteers from one of us to sing so as to attract the lady (阿妹) or guy (阿哥) to come out to duet with you.  Seems like passengers on our boat were quite shy and there was 1 house where the 阿妹 couldn’t come out of the house as no male passengers dared to sing to her, probably because they feared that if they didn’t sing well, they would have to remain in Baofeng Lake to be a slave to the 阿妹.  Haha…

After the boat cruise, it was another short walk down to Shan Yue Pavilion (山月亭) where we saw live Chinese giant salamander (娃娃鱼) in the pond – the largest salamander and amphibian in the world. It is endemic to rocky, mountain streams and lakes in China.  Due to habitat loss, pollution, and over-collection, as it is considered a delicacy and used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is now critically endangered.

There is also a mini booth for visitors to pray and draw a divination lot for themselves, by giving a small token in the donation box near the exit.  Of course before you leave the attraction, there is a souvenir shop for you shop in.

For visitors who really do not have the stamina to walk all the way in to board the boat, you can actually pay a local to bring you there comfortably in a sedan (轿子).  I do not know the price though as none in our tour group paid for this, but I did see a few sedans along the way, seems pretty interesting to be treated like a king or queen with big strong men carrying you through the mountain range. :P

Last picture here at Baofeng Lake Scenic Area is of the beautiful waterfall near the exit:

 Picturesque view of waterfall by the Baofeng Lake Scenic Area

Picturesque view of waterfall by the Baofeng Lake Scenic Area

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Junsheng Sandstone Painting Gallery (军声画院) – Promoting Creative Eco-Friendly Art

Junsheng Sandstone Painting Gallery (军声画院: 湖南省张家界市子午路2号), a national 2A-rated tourist attraction in Zhangjiajie city, was our first stop on day 4, an easy and relaxing destination to start another “tough day” ahead. :P  The gallery was opened to the public in May 2001 by artist Mr Li Junsheng (李军声), presenting a brand new concept of painting using sandstone, plants and many other natural materials to create the beautiful sandstone paintings here.

Junsheng Painting Gallery - all covered with greenery to demonstrate its eco-friendliness? ;)

Junsheng Painting Gallery – all covered with greenery to demonstrate its eco-friendliness? ;)

There are 4 levels in the gallery but we were only allowed to take pictures on the first level (I think).  Each level houses the beautiful and delicate sandstone paintings completed by Mr Li and his students.  Many of their works look incredibly beautiful, and you won’t even notice that they are sandstone paintings if no one tells you about it, because they simply look like traditional-inked paintings from a distance!  You gotta see it to believe it. :)  They also sell some of the beautiful works by Mr Li and his students on the top floor, in various sizes and prices to suit everyone.  Frankly the prices are pretty affordable considering the effort put in by these artists to create the painting using natural materials. A table photo frame-sized painting cost around S$40.  But I didn’t buy any as my house doesn’t have the space and ambience to display such art haha.

A painting of the great artist working on his sandstone painting

A painting of the great artist, born in 1963, working on his sandstone painting

The next and last photo I am going to show here is interesting.  When the staff brought us to the painting, all we could see was a closed wooden latched door.  Slowly the staff opened the door and this was what we saw:

Beautiful sandstone creation behind the door :)

Beautiful sandstone creation behind the door :)

There is a similar painting on the higher levels that Mr Li completed of his childhood home.  Once you open the wooden door of his childhood home, you see something totally different from the dilapidated house, like a hopeful and bright new world outside for him to explore.  Guess that was what inspired him to work hard and come up with such great art works despite being very poor during his growing-up days as a Tujia ethnic minority in Zhangjiajie.  His first sandstone artwork was completed in 1986 and was later awarded the national copyright. I like the underlying meaning presented in many of his paintings – simply inspirational! ;)

It’s no wonder that Mr Li Junsheng is quite well-known in the artistic field and his works have been sold in various parts of the world from Asia to Europe and Americas.  Do visit the gallery for some insights if you are in Zhangjiajie. :)

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