Bali, Indonesia


What is beyond this EPL island haven?


In 2016, Frenchie and I literally spent our first two weeks of the year in this small island of Indonesia, which became famous by the Eat, Pray, Love memoir of Elizabeth Gilbert.  

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Because of the book, many single (and divorced) women have packed their bags (and life) to settle (and travel) to the island, hoping to be able to find themselves (and a new love) just like what happened to Elizabeth Gilbert. That even the local Balinese people (who can speak English) called this the E-P-L-syndrome.

Bali, as a place to travel and visit has so much to offer. They even have hidden gems along the way! So what's beyond this Eat, Pray, Love island haven?! Oh, so much more!!!

We stayed in Ubud, in this family-owned bungalows. The place reminded me of a Beijing hutong! The family was so nice and accommodating. They barely speak English but somehow their one-word-sentences help us get by when we stayed there.

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Things You Can Do In Bali:


1. Visit the Sacred Monkey Forest

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In Ubud, the most famous tourist attraction is the Sacred Monkey Forest. For Balinese culture, they have high respect with monkeys, as they believed they were the spirits of their beloved dead. So whenever they see monkeys around, they don't shoo them away. They just let them do their thing. But you have to be extra careful being around them. 

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Frenchie and I had a very, very close encounters with them while we were there. They were very playful and would grab things from your hands, especially if it's food.


2. Watch a shadow puppet show

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They have so many cultural shows and event around the island. Wayang, the art of shadow puppet was one particular show that made Frenchie so curious. I, on the other hand had no idea what the whole thing was about, although they gave an English explanation about the plot of the play before they started. I was more fascinated on who were behind it.

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Apparently, being a shadow puppet "manipulator" is not just a talent you can develop but to be a dalang means you're an artist and a spiritual leader. And at the same time, had an extraordinary talent to showcase the epic mythologies. That's why if you'll get to watch one of these, they're usually old men. UNESCO required Indonesians to preserve this heritage.

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3. Get lost in the middle of their rice fields

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Indonesia's staple food, like many other Asian countries is rice. So it's no surprise that you will see hectares after hectares of rice fields in the country or in the island of Bali. It's not something special but somehow for many tourists, this activity brings another bucket list adventure and experience.

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Well, being Filipino myself and being surrounded by rice fields all my life, this was like--- nah! :P


4. Rent a motorbike or scooter

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It's the best way to beat the traffic around the island! Also the best way to move around and even go farther from Ubud.

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We had so much fun with this form of transportation and I highly recommend this! Fret not because you'll see a lot of rental places in the area and they're relatively cheap.


5. Find an infinity pool for an afternoon dip

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There are so many resorts around Bali and most of them have swimming pools. Some of them have infinity pools overlooking the rice fields. So use your Google search and find one. You don't need to stay in the resort, you can order food and drinks, or just pay for swimming fee.

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6. Dress up like a Balinese and join their local ritual event

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Indonesia is primarily practicing Hinduism, so they have plenty of religious and ritual events all year round. They have at least one per month. In order to truly immerse yourself in this fascinating culture, make an effort to join in, but do dress-up appropriately for the event.

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We were lucky that our bungalow owners were kind enough to lend us their costumes/clothes, so we didn't have to buy them.  


7. Rent a car (oh, it's right-hand drive)

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If you plan to see more of Bali, this is the best way to go around, rather than taking a taxi every time. I was lucky to have Frenchie, who had an International Driver's Card, as my official driver. It's the best road trip we had so far in our travels. And it's cheaper to rent as well ($15/day), so it's not bad for your travel budget.


8. Go to the rice terraces

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They have several ones around Bali. And if you're a nature trekker, this is one good activity for you. We went to Ceking Rice Terraces, when we did our car road trip. It's my first rice terraces visit, ever.

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So I made a promise to myself that my next rice terraces visit should be the Bananue Rice Terraces in the Philippines.


9. Visit the volcano

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If you're a risk taker, you can even hike it. The most famous and the highest one is the Batur Volcano. It's the volcano located at the center of two concentric calderas.


10. Swim in a hot spring

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Hot springs are another tourist attraction in Bali. But you need to go farther from Ubud or Kuta. Frenchie and I stayed overnight in a resort nearby a hot spring. It's a public one and it's mostly locals who come and swim here. You can spend an hour or two in the area-- no more, no less.

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But since it's quite a ride going back to Ubud, we decided to spend the night in the area. I loved it because it was more quiet and we had the resort to ourselves at night. They even had their own hot spring!

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11. Snorkeling to see shipwrecks

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There are quite a few of shipwrecks in Bali dating back during the World War II. We drove all the way to Amed to do snorkeling and shipwreck hunting.

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Amed is still relatively cheaper compared to Kuta and Ubud-- and still less touristy. If you're into scuba diving and free diving, this is a place to be.

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We spent several nights there and we paid cheaper compared to the resort we were staying in Ubud.


13. Visit sacred temples

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Again, Indonesia's religion is mostly Hinduism so it's not surprising to see temples, temples, temples. It is a very fascinating religion-- at least from my very Catholic background.

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I love how they offer flowers everyday, without missing a corner of their house. Visiting a temple, it'll give you an idea how Hinduism is being practiced.

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We went to the temple on their 50.000 IDR. We even had a dance entertainment while we were there.


15. Go the surfer's paradise in the island

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Bali is a surfer's paradise. One of the many reasons why they come is to surf. There's at least 10 great spots to go, and they're mostly in the southern part. You can ride a motorbike to get there as well.

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Uluwatu is the most famous and most likely the best one. I tried surfing once, but I did not go on surfing here. But if you are, this is the most scenic with big waves.


16. Explore and swim in their waterfalls

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This activity was among my top favorite. We had a great time looking and swimming in them. There are a lot of places to go, you just need to do a little more out of the way and ready to explore them.

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The best one we had was the hidden waterfalls that we just kind of saw while we were driving around. It was a great find! But the water was sooo cold!

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17. Check out the local market and buy unique souvenir pieces

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It has been on this trip that I was really fascinated on visiting the local markets. I love all the things I see. I love bargaining and interacting with the local people.

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I love how things can be a good idea for souvenirs for families and friends-- the best part, they're cheaper compared to buying them from a souvenir store! 

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From then on, I made a conscious effort to visit the local markets on our travels. And you should, too. You'll be very surprised on the things you can find.  


18. Go on a food trip! Like a lot!

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I'm one happy Asian to have tasted all the varieties of food we tried on this trip. It was, of course, my most favorite activity on this adventure. It made me realize that Asian food is really the best there is.

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I may be biased on saying that. It's the most authentic and the most savory of dishes with the exemplary spices, I've ever tasted. My most favorite Indonesian dish is nasi goreng with satay. It is somehow similar to Thai food.

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On our last night in Bali, we went to the fish market in Kuta, bought some fresh lobsters, and gave our seafood to a cook--- who made our very fresh and cheap dinner goodness!

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I even went for a Balinese cooking class, which I will also blog about

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Have you been to Bali? What activities did you love?

Singapore


What to do and see on a short trip in Singapore?


This trip was really short. And rainy!

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We spent one full day in this city slash country because we were just passing by before flying to Bali, Indonesia.

But this was the place where we celebrated our first New Year's eve together as a couple. Hello, 2016!!!

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There are too many touristy things to do in Singapore. It's even a good place to go as a family because there's Universal Studios and Sentosa Island.

But since we were just passing by, we didn't do the touristy route. We were basically being spontaneous! Like seriously.

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Singapore can be a pricey trip, so we were really sticking on a budget here. And these are the things we did...

Take public transport

We took their subway. And I love their subway ticket! They have little infos on it.

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We spent most of our day in some of their nice neighborhoods, which gives Singapore a multi-cultural vibe.

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Haji Lane

They have actually painted every store here, and made this street more colorful. It's more Instagram-OOTDs-worthy these days! This was what it looks like a year ago.

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Arab street/ Kampong Glam

This is where I bought souvenirs for friends and family. Pretty much where you can find the best Arab and Indian restaurants around town.

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Tanjong Pagar

These are the wooden buildings located in the central business district of Singapore. And the back of these shop houses have spiral staircases that makes them unique!

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Sentosa Island

Their slogans: Asia's Favorite Playground / Singapore's Island Resort / The State of Fun!

It's huge and have several beach spots and activities around.

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Marina Bay

You don't need to go any farther! This one place alone in Singapore that has so many things to see, so many things to do (shop!!!), and so many bar/restaurants to choose from. 

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This is also where you can find the iconic symbol of Singapore--- The Merlion!

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Food is of course part of the itinerary! I especially love the milk tea that I watched them how to do it and I started making my own as well!

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Singapore was named to be the best airport in the world for many years! And this is what we love in their airport--- a free massage chair and cool recycle bins.

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Have you been to Singapore? What can you recommend to see and do?

Taipei, Taiwan

 

DO YOU WANT TO SEE THE LARGEST GREEN BUILDING IN THE WORLD?


Taipei, Taiwan is the place to go!

Our trip to Taiwan was more like a side trip before we went to the US. Frenchie and I found the cheapest flight from Manila to the US through Eva Air--- that is known for their Hello Kitty planes.

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Knowing that Eva Air is an airline company from Taiwan, we were highly-likely to have a stop-over there. So we decided to spend a few days and get to know this other Chinese speaking country in the world. 

                                                                                                       

                                                                                                       

I'm impressed at how the airline managed the delayed flight which was only 30 minutes. They gave us a burger and a bottle of water. For a local Philippine airline that's a very rare occasion. Or maybe they don't do that at all.


FrenchieatPinay Tip: Check with your travel insurance if you are covered for a delayed flight compensation.


After almost two hours of flight, we arrived in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan. For Filipino passport holders, you need to secure a visa. But if you have a US visa, just fill up a form online through their website and bring the printed copy with you. The airline staff itself will do all the necessary routines upon your check in. That's what I did.

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It was a breeze at the immigration. No questions asked. But the airport was still an hour away from the city center of Taipei. To get around the city, there are buses and metro lines conveniently designed to take you from end-to-end of the whole city.


Taipei has a very good public transport system. So if you're planning to go around for some sightseeing, it's best to buy a metro card. It's a very good souvenir, too!


For this trip, we were on a backpacking budget, so we were hosted by a very kind man from Couchsurfing, Tony on his studio apartment near the National Taiwan University.

The best thing about staying with a local is that, they will take you to their favorite spots that probably no other tourist knows and no other guidebooks can suggest. On Tony's case, he took us to his favorite Japanese restaurant, that easily became our favorite, too!


He also took us to the night market that Taiwan is very famous for. We love the vibe and the colorful food around us that night!


WHAT WE LOVE MORE ABOUT TAIWAN?


                                     

                                     

Their subway lines are very clean and spacious. And Taiwanese people act courteously.


                                               

                                               

They provide free maps and guide information on every subway stations/stops. And in English, too!


                                                                                                                        

                                                                                                                        

Their subway view is all green and natural!


                                                                               

                                                                               

They have cool and inspiring places to hang out.


                  

                  

                                                                          

                                                                          

They have clean and safe alleyways that will make you love walking. And fun, too!


                                                                                   

                                                                                   

Their local dishes are so good, delicious, and cheap!


They have art and historical museums, most famous one is the National Palace Museum-- which is home to 696,000 pieces of ancient Chinese imperial artifacts and artworks from Forbidden City in Beijing, China. Making it one of the largest museums in the world.


                 

                 

    

    

They have a very organized way of making the mainland Chinese behave! I mean, just look at how miraculous this line was. In China, tat's a rare sight! Haha!


           

           

                                                        

                                                        

They have the best viewing point of the sunset overlooking then Taiwan strait. Which is another cool place to walk. 


                                                                                    

                                                                                    

They have a lover's bridge that even when you're alone you can still go there. Haha.


                                                                                                                  

                                                                                                                  

They're being responsible pet owners.


                                     

                                     

They have a 24hour laundry places that became a good training place before we arrived in New York. It was a first to me! 


their tallest building--- TAIPEI 101, is also the greenest building in the world!


                                                 

                                                 

Their airport has a reading area with lots of books to choose from!


FrenchieatPinay Tips: Taiwan is also famous for their hot springs. They have a lot around the city and the prices vary from 80- 1,000TWD. We went to a public one and only paid for 25TWD per person. No pictures allowed though.


Have you been or would you like to go to taiwan?

Hunan, China

 

WANT TO SEE THE HALLELUJAH MOUNTAINS IN JAMES CAMERON'S AVATAR MOVIE?


Come to Hunan--- one of the most beautiful provinces in China.

Not only this is the home of Mao Zedong but this is also the province where you will see the "Avatar" mountain AND where you will also experience the most horrifying and scariest and longest cable ride and glass walk on planet Earth!

There are so many places to see and visit in this province, that you need a full two weeks being there. But for this trip, we specifically focused on one place that offers two amazing wonders--- Zhangjiajie.


1. TIANMEN MOUNTAIN


Or Tianmen Shan is located within the Tianmen Mountain National Park, and have the longest passenger cableway of high mountains in the world", with 98 cars and a total length of 7,455 meters (24,459 ft) and ascent of 1,279 meters (4,196 ft). The highest gradient is an unusual 37 degrees!


It was the most awesome and scariest cable ride of my life! I was even calling all the saints and gods in heaven to keep us safe and make us land in one piece!

           I don't look scared here but believe me my stomach was churning the whole time!

           I don't look scared here but believe me my stomach was churning the whole time!

I don't look scared here but believe me my stomach was churning the whole time!😊

As if the cable ride was not torture enough, but this mountain, is also where tourists can walk on kilometers of paths built onto the cliff face at the top, including sections with glass floors!

So you're all literally walking at the edges of the mountain with all these made up glass walk, wood walk, and bridge walk!

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Sadly, we came on a rainy weekend at that time, so the view of our surroundings was more or less blurry and foggy.☹

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FrenchieatPinay Tip: Wear comfortable shoes. It was a quite a walk and quite crowded, too (well given the fact that we were there on a national Chinese holiday). Just don't wear stilettos just like these ridiculous girls! 

ENTRANCE FEE: 216.00RMB/ person which includes the round trip cable ride. The park open from 8AM to 6PM, daily.


2. WULINGYUAN


Is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1992. It is comprised of several national parks, the most famous of which is Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, a 243 square mile park full of stunning pillars of sandstone, covered with sub-tropical rainforest.

This is one of the inspirations for the Hallelujah Mountain in James Cameron's movie, Avatar. So for the locals, it has become the Avatar Mountain.

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ENTRANCE FEE: 245.00RMB/ person. Good for three days of exploration, all inclusive of all the bus rides inside the park. Unfortunately, they don't sell one day tickets.


The park is huge and quite tricky. You will find yourself at loss when a) you don't have a good guide map, and b) when you don't speak Chinese. Luckily for me, Frenchie mastered map reading and Chinese speaking. 😉


FrenchieatPinay Tip: Take the West gate entrance. Lesser tourists get inside through this gate.



Sadly, as it was raining again, we didn't enjoy the place as much as we would have when it would have been a sunny, clear day.

Although, the park is also very beautiful on a foggy day. But just not on the day we visited. 


We also queued-- for almost an hour, just to take the tallest elevator ride in the world! You all should know by now, that the Chinese wants to outdo all countries in may fields that are tallest, biggest, and longest! 


And oh, they also have the famous love locks up there.


The more disappointing part of this trip was--- we didn't have enough time and we spent too much time queuing up to every entrance gates and bus stops, because apparently, it's where millions of Chinese go for their holiday.


But at least, we did enjoy the Hunan cuisine when we were done from all of our mountain hikes.


HOW TO GET TO ZHANGJIAJIE FROM BEIJING?


There are daily flights from Beijing to Changsha (the capital of Hunan Province). www.ctrip.com

In our case we took a fast train from Beijing West Railway Station to Changsha South Railway Station. 6.5 hours for 649RMB per person. Then took a bus from Changsha bus station to Zhangjiajie bus station. 5.5 hours, including weekend holiday traffic for 112RMB per person.

Little did we know that there was actually a train from Beijing to Zhangjiajie and a bus from Changsha train station to Zhangjiajie. I mean you don't need to go all the way to another bus station or take another train.

We spent one night in a hotel in Changsha close to the bus station. 160/night and comes with an awesome mahjong table! 

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In Zhangjiajie, we stayed in Zhanjiajie Zhongtian International Hostel. 160RMB/night for a double bed room. 


Would you dare walking on the glass bridge or take the longest cable ride?

Cuandixia Village, China

 

Looking for a less touristy day trip away from the heart of Beijing, China?


Visit the Cuandixia Village that also offers a glimpse of what an authentic Chinese courtyard would look like. Or if you just want some peace and quiet time from the horrendous sound of Beijing traffic.

This small and quiet village is an "almost hidden gem" of the city. It is known for its well preserved courtyard dating back from the Ming Dynasty. Cuan means "kitchen range" in Chinese.

Cuandixia has almost 500-well preserved courtyard homes, that many of these have been converted into inns or guesthouses, offering food and lodging to travelers.

Frenchie and I stayed in one of these courtyards for a night. You don't really need to book in advance, because there are a plenty of guesthouses that you can check out and the local owners will welcome you, warmly. The price of a room ranges from 50RMB to 300RMB a night.

The surrounding area is full of mountains and trails that are popular with hikers. We did a little bit of a hike slash walking around the village, too.

We went during the Tomb Sweeping Day or Qingming holiday in China (more like their All Soul's Day celebration) on an April cold day. Most of these courtyards don't have a heating system, that's why although the village was filled with local tourists but they barely spent a night there.

FrenchieatPinay Tip: If you go on one of the days-- on a dry Beijing winter season, bring your own warm blanket. I did and it saved us from a sleepless cold night!

         

         


What we loved about this trip was seeing the Chinese people go on their day-to-day lives, being oblivious to the fact that they were surrounded by tourists, like us. 

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Cuandixia is also a favorite subject of photographers and painters, given the historic and ancient vibe of the village. In my case, as a frustrated photographer...

 
 
 
 
 

The village is also famous for its lamb (thigh) barbecue and corn soup. The famous restaurant that serves these dishes is just a few yards away from the entrance.

We also found the mini food stalls for fruits and snacks-- as an alternative souvenir.


HOW TO GET TO CUANDIXIA VILLAGE BY PUBLIC TRANSPORT?


Take the subway--- Pingguoyuan Station (Line 1) Leave by southwest Exit A, walk towards west around 200m until bus stop 892/929. Then take the public bus 892 to Zhaitang (about 2:20 hours. 16-18RMB cash, 6-8RMB with yikatong subway card) 6km away from Cuandixia, and then take a private taxi to Cuandixia, don't pay more than 10RMB per person, 3 people can cost 20RMB or you can walk 6km from Zhaitang to southern entrance to Cuandixia. There is supposed to be direct bus 929支 leaving from Pingguoyuan at 12:40, and one in early morning, but by information from conductor sitting in different 929 in 3/2014 was this bus discontinued. Be aware there are many buses 929 driving to many different places, so ask the bus driver if he drives to Cuandixia or Zhaitang always. You can go to Cuandixia also directly by private taxi from Pingguoyuan subway, taxi for 3 people can cost 150RMB (1st offer 260RMB), always ask if it's including 35RMB ticket or not since it makes quite big difference.

ENTRANCE FEE: 35RMB for adults. 18RMB for students. (Maybe the prices have been changed as of this writing because we made our trip in 2013.)

FrenchieatPinay Tip: If you can, go on weekdays just to avoid the weekend buzzing of the local tourists.


Have you been to an ancient or historic place similar to this?