Friday, May 31, 2019

10D8N Silk Road Trip of Lanzhou, Dunhuang, Jiayuguan & Zhangye

Three China trips within half a year.
Second desert experience in a year, after Morocco trip February this year. 
All these never within my plan until the boyfriend came across a news of AirAsia is commencing a new route to Lanzhou and without thinking any longer, he booked immediately. Guess what, he even tagged me along as well. It seems like I can't run away from travelling every month for this year.


Both of us just came back from our 10D8N trip to Lanzhou last week and without wasting any time, now it's time for me to share our travel experiences and adventures to "The Mecca of China".

DAY 1: KUALA LUMPUR → LANZHOU
Not just that AirAsia X is the only carrier serves this route from Kuala Lumpur but surprisingly, it is also the only foreign carrier that fly-in into the capital of Gansu Province. Bravo and good job AirAsia! 

Because it started to commence on 1st May which less than a month only, hence this route is consider new among the Malaysian travellers. We're quite shocked to find out that only 4 passengers (including both the boyfriend and I) are Malaysian whereas the rest 300 are Chinese (China tourists) on the board. Our flight from Kuala Lumpur to Lanzhou departed at 5.20pm and arrived at the Lanzhou Zhongchuan Airport around 10.20pm. Probably due to 4 of us were the only foreigners, their immigration verification and clearance process tend to be relatively strict. Sort of questions were asked including our profession, the purpose of visiting and the whole itinerary. I was a bit nervous until I forgot how to write my own Chinese name. Dang! 

2019 China Lanzhou AirAsia
#1: Flight from Kuala Lumpur to Lanzhou with AirAsia X

Similar to our two previous trips to China, we booked hotel nearby the airport because we intended to fly out on the next morning. 

DAY 2: LANZHOU → DUNHUANG 
With the free shuttle transfer provided by the airport hotel we booked, we back to the airport again on the next morning. Then, we catch the next flight with China Eastern Airlines to Dunhuang, a city in northwestern Gansu Province of China. 

2019 China Lanzhou 01
#2: The ultimate reason why I choose the window seat - exceptionally beautiful aerial view

2019 China Dunhuang Airport
#3: Dunhuang Airport

The first tourist attraction we went is Mogao Grottoes/Caves. From Dunhuang Airport, we took DiDi (China's Grab/Uber) which takes less than 20 minutes drive to the digital exhibition center first. At there, visitors can enjoy two amazing videos "A Thousand Years of Mogao Caves" and "Splendor of Buddha's Place" before taking the free shuttle bus service to caves. 

2019 China Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes 05
#4: Mogao Grottoes/Caves, also known as the "Thousand Buddha Caves" is a legendary home to thousand of Buddhist art, sutras, murals and sculptures in the world. 

As they limited the total number of visitors to 6,000 per day, it is advisable to reserve a ticket in advance especially during the high season which falls between May to October. For those who can read Chinese, you can reserve the ticket online via the official website 30 days in advance. Too bad for those who can't read Chinese like me, the English version isn't available yet. There are more than 700 caves but only 8 caves are opened to public and each tour will be guided by their staffs. 

2019 China Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes 03
#5

If you want to know more about this so called "Thousand Buddha Caves" - check out here including their interesting and fascinating history, the opening hours and admission fee. 

After spending almost 4 hours, we then proceed to our next agenda. We took public bus from outside of digital exhibition center to Dunhuang downtown (the last stop and it costs 3 yuan per passenger). From there, we waited for the pick-up cause we're going to experience a night camping in the desert. Yes, camping! I enjoyed camping since I was Brownies (a member of Girl Scout & Guide) at the age of 10 until now. I was genuinely shocked when the boyfriend told me his plan cause like finally I found someone willing to accompany me to camp, especially in abroad. 

2019 China Dunhuang Desert
#6

So besides camping, what did we do in the desert? We got to play sandboarding and ride on the ATV and you know what - all these activities are my first time ever experience and I was indeed having tons of fun. Too bad due to the cloudy weather, we're unable to view the sunset and stargazing but the organiser never let us down anywhere. We were served with "mala" steamboat, great performance by the dancers and singer and ended our night with campfire.

2019 China Dunhuang Camping In Desert
#7

DAY 3: DUNHUANG
We were asked to wake up before 7am in order to catch the free bus provided, or else we need get Didi ourselves. Boyfriend requested the bus driver to stop at one of Dunhuang's top tourist attractions - Mingsha Shan Mountain (鸣沙山) and Crescent Moon-shaped Spring Geo

Located on the Silk Road, Mingsha Shan Mountain literally means Echoing-Sand Mountain in Chinese and it claimed to be one of the Eight Great Landscapes of Dunhuang. It believed that when there is a wild wind, the sands will be blown up and create loud sound, while the sound seems like being produced by some ancient musical instrument when blew by breeze, hence the name derived from.

2019 China Dunhuang Mount Mingshashan and Crescent Moon-shaped Spring Geo
#8: Mingsha Shan Mountain

Nestled in the vast desert for thousand years, the Crescent Lake is in a natural shape of half-moon and had been commonly considered as one of the Eight Great Landscapes of Dunhuang along with the Echoing-Sand Mountain in early of Western Han Dynasty. In order to get full panoramic view of this Crescent Moon-Shaped Lake, both boyfriend and I hiked up to the peak of Mingsha Shan Mountain. Oh boy, it was indeed tough and steep but glad we made it. 

2019 China Dunhuang Mount Mingshashan and Crescent Moon-shaped Spring Geo-1
#9: Crescent Moon-Shaped Lake

Mingsha Shan Mountain (鸣沙山) and Crescent Moon-shaped Spring (月牙泉) Geo
How To Get Here: Bus #3 from Dunhuang
Opening Hours: 8am to 5pm (Depends on different seasons)
Admission Fee: CNY120 during peak season; CNY60 during low season.

We then heading to the hotel where we're going to stay for three nights. I can't remember the exact hotel's name cause the boyfriend in charge of doing the booking but from what he told me, one night only costs RM60 - that's dirt cheap! Even the location of this hotel is excellent too - very close to the night market.

2019 China Dunhuang Hotel
#10: Our hotel in Dunhuang for three nights costs only RM60 per night

2019 China Dunhuang NIght Market 01
#11: Dunhuang Night Market

2019 China Dunhuang Donkey Yellow Noodle
#12: One of the local food you shouldn't miss in Dunhuang - Yellow noodles and exotic donkey meat

2019 China Dunhuang Flying Apsara Statue
#13: The famous statue of Dunhuang - Flying Apsara

DAY 4: DUNHUANG
It's going to be one long day on the 4th day of our trip. The boyfriend signed up a ground local tour which began from 8.30am and ended almost at 12pm. Why it ended so late? It's because the tour includes a sunset viewing experience and the sunset time in China at that hour was approaching 9pm. By the time we done with the sunset, the journey back to Dunhuang downtown took almost 3 hours and that's explain why.

We were taken to a handful of tourist attractions situated outskirt of Dunhuang; including Dunhuang Movie Set, Yangguan Pass, Yumen Pass and ended with sunset viewing at Dunhuang Yardang National Geopark. In between the tour, we had a lunch break with the additional charge of CNY40 and we were served with 12 distinctive dishes. That's freaking a lot.

2019 China Dunhuang Ancient Town
#14: Dunhuang Movie Set - More than 300 movies have been shooting here including Jackie Chan's movies. Entrance fee is CNY20

2019 China Dunhuang Yangguan Pass 01
#15: Yangguan Pass

2019 China Dunhuang Yangguan Pass 02
#16:

DAY 5: DUNHUANG
Cause we were genuinely exhausted with the long day tour we took yesterday (imagine more than 15 hours), hence we decided to have a free and relaxed day on our third day in Dunhuang. We went for a short stroll around the city, shop at the local supermarket and indulged ourselves with cheap shabu-shabu as our dinner.

2019 China Dunhuang Mosque
#17: Mosque in Dunhuang. There are few halal restaurants nearby the mosque.

2019 China Dunhuang Shabu Shabu
#18: Had shabu-shabu for dinner before leaving Dunhuang on the next day 

DAY 6: DUNHUANG → JIAYUGUAN → ZHANGYE
Goodbye Dunhuang! It's time to move to the next city, Jiayuguan. We flew with China Eastern Airines again to the northwestern city of Gansu Province. On this particular day, I felt like we're joining "The Amazing Race" cause once we landed in Jiayuguan Airport, immediately we rush to visit all the popular destinations of Jiayuguan by taking DiDi. Totally no break for breakfast at all.

2019 China Jiayuguan Airport
#19: Jiayuguan - the third airport we flew into

The city culture of Jiayuguan is a combination of both Great Wall and Silk Road. It boasts many historical relics referring to these two great wonders. The famous ones we managed to visit are Jiayuguan Pass, the Overhanging Great Wall and the First Fire Tower of the Great Hall.

2019 China Jiayuguan Heritage Scenic Resort 01
#20: Jiayuguan Pass (Jiayuguan Great Wall)

2019 China Jiayuguan West Wall
#21: The Overhanging Great Wall

2019 China Jiayuguan First Fire Tower of the Great Hall
#22: First Fire Tower of the Great Hall

After covering all the three above attractions within four hours, we took DiDi heading to Jiayuguan South Railway Station to catch bullet train to Linze. Bear in mind, Jiayuguan has two; one is South Railway Station which I mentioned earlier and another one is Jiayuguan Railway Station mainly operates for non-bullet trains to/from Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Xi'an, etc.

2019 China Bullet Train Jiayuguan to Linze
#23: Catching bullet train from Jiayuguan South Railway Station to Linze

The bullet train ride was indeed fast that the journey from Jiayuguan to Linze took less than an hour only. How I wish it could be longer cause I love to ride on the train especially for the bullet train. Once we got out from Linze Railway Station, we took visitor bus (white colour big bus) heading to Zhangye Dangxia National Geopark (the last stop and it costs CNY8). But because by the time we arrived the time is approaching to the closing time, we decided to check-in the hotel we booked nearby. And this is my most favourite one throughout the trip. It's newly opened hotel and the room rate per night was approximately RM80 only. Thanks to low season.

2019 China Zhangye Hotel
#24: Danxia Photography International Hotel - only costs RM80 per night.

DAY 7: ZHANGYE 
We woke up as early as 4.30am to catch the sunrise at Zhangye Danxia National Geopark which expected to greet us around 6am. Luck was on our side when we were told that entrance fee on 18th every year is free due to celebration of International Museum Day. The only thing we need to pay is the sightseeing bus costs CNY20. The sights are widely distributed. The tour route is very long with no proper walkways. Hence, visitors are advise to take the sightseeing bus.

2019 China Zhangye National Geopark
#25: Zhangye Danxia National Geopark

2019 China Zhangye National Geopark-1
#26:

To get to Zhangye city center, we took minivan from Zhangye Danxia National Geopark and the ride took more than an hour. And once we reach Zhangye, we walked to our hotel which we booked for two nights.

2019 China Zhangye Hotel 01
#27: Our hotel in Zhangye

Zhangye city seems to be slightly unexciting and uneventful for me. Though there are quite number of shops where you can have a leisure shopping but I don't find anything interesting and we went back to the hotel earlier. We spent most of our times in Zhangye by watching Chinese Dating Show - really addicted to it.

2019 China Zhangye Attraction 01
#28

DAY 8: ZHANGYE → LANZHOU
From Zhangye we head back to Lanzhou again. There two available options to travel between these two cities; either by bullet train or plane and we chosen the latter one cause the fare for both means of transport are almost the same. For this round, we got to experience another new airlines again - Chengdu Airlines.

2019 China Zhangye Airport 01
#29: Zhangye Airport

2019 China Zhangye Chengu Airlines
#30: Chengu Airlines

DAY 9: LANZHOU 
Before leaving Lanzhou, we try to check out what this city has to offer. The boyfriend prefer to book the hotel nearby at the airport rather in the city center. In order to reach the city center from the airport, one can opt for the airport shuttle bus (CNY 30) or by taking train (CNY20).

Lanzhou attractions:

2019 China Lanzhou Attractions
#31: Lanzhou Waterweel Park

2019 China Lanzhou Attraction 03
#32:

2019 China Lanzhou Attraction 02
#33: Panoramic view of Yellow River in Lanzhou

2019 China Lanzhou Attraction 04
#34: Statue of Mother Yellow River of Lanzhou, regarded as one of the best sculptures

2019 China Lanzhou Haidilao
#35: Finally I got to try the famous hotpot brand - Hao Di Lao. Luckily the queue wasn't long. We waited for more than an hour and we got the table.

DAY 10: LANZHOU → KUALA LUMPUR
Our flight back to Kuala Lumpur to Lanzhou was scheduled to depart at 11.55pm, almost approaching to midnight.
2019 China AirAsia

The new route to Lanzhou by AirAsia might be new but I personally think it's worth to experience. It's completely unique, fresh and fascinating to be able to experience this so called "Silk Road" trip. Initially the boyfriend intend to visit Tibet but then he decided to reroute to Silk Road and by end of our trip, we never regret with the decision we made. Just that probably the duration of the trip can be shorter to at least 8 days. 

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Pena Palace of Sintra, Portugal

"To beat the crowds is by getting there early - the rule of thumb for visitors."

On our second day in Lisbon, we woke up pretty early in the hope of catching the earliest train to Sintra. Our main highlight of the day is to visit Pena Palace (Palacio Nacional da Pena), one of the finest tourist attractions in Portugal and exemplifies the 19th century Romanticism style of architecture. Definitely must-go when in Portugal. 

HOW TO GET TO PENA PALACE FROM LISBON 
Pena Palace is doable as a day trip, although the journey from Lisbon to Sintra might be slightly long. Hence, it's advisable to start your day trip as early as possible. In Lisbon, we head to Rossio Railway Station. You can reach Rossio Railway Station by taking metro under blue/green line and align at Rossio Metro Station. To pay for the journey from Lisbon to Sintra, you can use Viva Viagem card and a single fare costs €2.25. The train runs every 30 minutes and it takes approximately 40 minutes to reach Sintra. 

2018 Portugal Lisbon Rossio Railway Station 01

Reaching Sintra Railway Station, turn right after getting out from the station and there is a bus stop 100 meters down the road. Catch the 434 tourist bus heading to Pena National Palace, the National Palace and the Moorish Palace, which operates on a hop-on and hop-off system. The bus ticket can be bought on board. You can opt for a single trip of €6.90 or daily tourist ticket of €15. Align at second stop for Pena Palace (the first stop is for the Moorish Palace). 

From the park entrance where the bus drop the passenger, one need to hike up to the Pena Palace and I found it quite challenging especially for my mom. Hence, we decided to queue up for shuttle bus and it's not free. A return trip costs €3 for each of us and the ticket can only buy from the ticket office. 

2018 Portugal Transportations to Sintra & Pena Palace

Here's the summary of the total cost for return trip from Lisbon to Pena Palace of Sintra:

Destinations
Intendente ® Rossio Metro Station
2.90
Rossio ® Sintra Railway Station
4.50
Tourist Bus 434
6.90
Park entrance ® Pena Palace via shuttle bus
3.00

17.30


Now, let's us start to discover and explore Pena Palace, shall we?

2018 Portugal Sintra 02

The exterior of the Pena Palace is utterly stunning and colourful - the terraces are vividly painted with mixture of yellow and red colour and decorative blue tiles in the middle. And seeing each and every details throughout the palace, now I know why this palace deserves to be listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal. 

2018 Portugal Sintra 03

2018 Portugal Sintra 04

2018 Portugal Sintra 05

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2018 Portugal Sintra 09

Being one of the most magnificent palaces in the world, no surprises Pena Palace draws millions of visitors flock to Sintra solely just to witness this with their own eyes. Due to this, expect it to be incredibly busy especially in the peak season. So, either arrive early as possible or 2-3 hours before the closing time cause in between 10am to 12pm, there's the time where couch tours arrive. Don't believe? Browse the two photos as below. The crowd was madly insane when we're there. 

2018 Portugal Sintra 10

2018 Portugal Sintra 11

Despite the cloudy weather (cause photos eventually would look nicer with a clear blue sky), I still found Pena Palace is absolutely impressive and fascinating. Out of so many palaces I ever visited, I can claim that Pena Palace is to be one of my most favourite besides the Peles Castle in Romania. 

Because the food options at the palace is expensive and very limited, therefore we opt to dine-in at Sintra town center. We hopped back to the tourist bus 434 using the ticket we bought earlier and drop of at Sintra town center. 

2018 Portugal Sintra Lunch & Gelato

ENTRANCE FEE FOR PENA PALACE
There are two types of entrance fee for Pena Palace:
1) Palace and Park Ticket - €14.
This allows entry to the Parque de Pena grounds, the terraces surrounding the palace and the staterooms. We bought this initially but because of the freaking long queue, we miss out from visiting the staterooms. What a waste!

2) Park - €7.50
The Park ticket provides entry to the Parque de Pena and the terraces. Majority of the visitors choose to buy this ticket because the main highlight are the colourful terraces and decorative battlements.

You can even buy from their official website (here) to beat the long queue.