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Travel and Gamble

Brunei: Jendee’s unique travel experience

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When we think of holiday abroad, Filipinos normally prefer to go to Hong Kong, Singapore or Thailand.  Brunei, a small, but rich Islamic country, is not a normal choice for holiday destination for Filipinos, with the exception of a few; among them, Jendee, a fellow nomadic friend and work colleague.

On this week’s fellow nomad series, we follow Jendee’s short adventure in Brunei. Read about her tips, what she learned about Brunei during her short visit, the places she explored; her tips and why it’s her most unique travel destination thus far at Eleventy traveler blog.

What made you travel to Brunei? Why was it your choice for holiday destination?

My brother-in-law works there so I went with my sister and niece to visit him. During my stay, I didn’t see a lot of public transport so I think it would be hard to move around. I noticed that houses there have a minimum of two cars. Good thing we have a family sponsor so it’s easy to be on the go.

Isn’t it an expensive destination?

Expensive? Maybe because of the lack of public transport, and only a few hotels to choose from (I only saw Radisson Blu and The Empire). Their fuel (at around Php15 per liter) and electricity (which can be bought prepaid) are sold really cheap. Even the food in typical foodcourts are almost priced the same here in the Philippines.

How long were you there and where did you stay? How did you get there? Airline used?

We were there for 4 days and 3 nights and stayed in my brother’s place in an Executive Housing village. We flew by Cebu Pacific Air, direct flight from Manila and touched down in Bandar Seri Begawan airport.

What sites did you see? What strike you the most and why?

The magnifescent mosques, Embassy of the Philippines, Istana Nurul Iman (House of Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah), the malls, the Bandar Waterfront, the Empire Hotel, University of Brunei Darussalam, Brunei Shell Science Discovery Center in Kuala Belait (a town about 2 hours away from Bandar). What I was so amazed about are their mosques which have been designed in detail – the lighting, the wall carvings, the ceiling, the floor, the trash bins and even the gates are intricately made works of art. Their mosques look really beautiful by day. At night, it transforms into a shining gold that are readily seen from afar.

How is Brunei different from most of the other countries you’ve been to? 

I have been to the US, Canada, Singapore and Malaysia before coming to Brunei. These countries have a unique thing of their own but already are too modern. Brunei was different. The rich Muslim culture is very evident here. When I go to their malls, seldom do I see modern clothing for women. Majority are “tudong”, or those that cover the hair and face of the Muslim ladies. No high rise buildings, even downtown where most of the business establishments are found. (I was told this is because Sultan does not want any building to rise above his mosque, not sure if true though.)

Give us top 3 unique things have you learned about this country?

1. The mosques which symbolizes the wealth of Brunei, even though they are a small country.

2. The waterfront , where you can see motorboats transporting passengers to the other side of the river (where the first inhabitants in Brunei lived).

3. Safety to move around, that’s why it’s called Negara Brunei Darussalam which means, State of Brunei Abode of Peace.

How much is a rough estimation overall for costs related to the trip?

The trip cost me around Php10,000 (5k for plane fare and another 5k for pasalubongs) since my food, accommodation and transportation are all free. 🙂

What tips can you give our fellow travelers interested in visiting this destination? DO’s and don’ts?

It’s hard to give one since I was there with a guide who is very familiar with the place. Perhaps, wear light clothing because it is very hot and sunny (I was there middle of May) and do not miss the Teh Tarik (Milk Tea) served at the waterfront café. The country is Islamic, so respect the local traditions, customs and laws at all times, and dress modestly.

Could you tell us about the best part of your experience traveling to Brunei, and why?

The best part would be seeing the Brunei Shell oil fields in Kuala Belait. Since I am an Oil & Gas company employee it was sort of a given for me to check it out and I was not disappointed. The place is a very clean seaside park with a lot of donkeys (machines that extract oil from the earth) and pipeline around the place.

Thank you Jen for gracing our website and sharing your travel to Brunei! More power to you and God bless!

Travel and Gamble

Hiking the Great Wall of China

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Like many of you, I have dreamt of hiking the Great Wall of China for as long as I can remember.

Needless to say, this has been very high on my travel bucket list even before I met Matt. Thankfully, the onslaught of budget airlines in the country as well as across the Asia Pacific region has made it possible to travel to regional destinations for cheap.

I’ve been to Beijing several times and have hiked the Great Wall twice, and both at winter season: first with friends (Nov 2011), and second, with my mum and sister Len (Feb 2012). On both occasions we went to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall.

Something about Mutianyu

Our travel brochure mentioned that the Mutianyu was built as early as the Northern Qi Dynasty (550 -557) and it was rebuilt in the 1300s in order to strengthen its defense. They are built with slabs of granite and stretch to about 22 km long. The walls are about 7 to 8 meters high and 4 or 5 meters wide. As is the other sections of the great wall, the Mutianyu was built primarily to guard the capital and the imperial tombs from the Mongol tribes that invaded China.

Why go to Mutianyu over Badaling?

The Great Wall at Mutianyu is a little further away from Beijing than the crowded Badaling, which is the more famous section for group tours. I can tell you though, I’ve seen Badaling (although we didn’t stop). It’s way too commercialized and crowded.

It’s better driving all the way to Mutianyu (If i remember correctly, about an hour’s drive further) as this section is considered the most beautiful section of the great wall. The drive up there is scenic and the tour normally stops at the Ming Tombs before going to the great wall. The best part about this section, other than the fact that you’ve got spectacular views, is that this is not crowded. The area has 90% forest coverage. On both occasions that i went to it, there were hardly any people there. As a result, I”ve got tons of photos where I was alone with the whole section of the Great Wall. That is pretty rare for China! :)

What to expect at Mutianyu

This section of the wall is fully restored; and there are hand rails to help you up on the very steep parts. There are 22 watchtowers, but we only made it to 3 because the altitude and the steep steps were not an easy challenge. That, or I am just physically unfit! haha!

There are two cable cars that will take you to the top of the wall and back down again. I have tried both on separate occasions. The other cable car is open , more like a chairlift (kinda what you use when you’re skiing) where 2 people can ride, the other is an enclosed cable car that fits about 4 people.

You can buy return tickets or you can buy one way and buy the return at the top. Keep in mind the 2 cable cars are owned by different companies, so when you buy a return ride for one cable car, you can’t use it for the other.  Before you decide that you would like to use another cable car, look at the map you will see at the entrance and anticipate the distance from the one cable car to the other. Do you really want to walk that far to try the other cable car? Can you bear all the hike and will you make it in time before the day ends? Trust me, you don’t wanna mess with those steps! They are quite a challenge!

If not, it may be better for you to just book a return trip. As far as i remember, the fee is cheaper if you book round trip, and that’s what we did.

An alternative way to go down is via a single-rider sled or toboggan. This looked like an adventure to try as you descend from the wall at the top of the hill via a winding metal track. We wanted to experience try, but hesitated in the end as it was too cold at the great wall at that time and we thought using the single rider sled going down may be too tough to do and bear with the cold weather.

There was a Chinese restaurant at the base of the wall where we ate food and had tea before we went up. There are also many souvenir shops at the base where you can haggle for prices.

Why do you need to see it?

This beautiful and massive human ingenuity is said to be the largest man made structure ever to have been built; so large that it can be seen from outer space (of course we all know that this is disputed).  Recently, the Great Wall has also made it to the New 7 Wonders of the World list; a definite must see destination at least once in your lifetime!

Tips when you go:

1. Ensure you look at the map and plan your bathroom visit accordingly as there’s only limited places where you have them.

2. Haggle for the prices at the souvenir shops before paying. Most of the prices they offer you first hand are ballooned (of course, you are a tourist!). I have been able to haggle up prices up to reduced rate of 60-70% of the original price. My friend Teta was an amazing haggler who was able to haggle down to 90%. Now that’s what i call talent! haha!

3. The Ming tombs is normally part of the tour en route to Mutianyu. In our view, you can pass the Ming tombs. Or if you visit, don’t spend as much time there. Rather, ask your guide to drive you to Mutianyu and spend more time there, especially if you  plan to hike up several watch towers.

Good luck and Happy Travels!

Travel and Gamble

Amber Fort: Jaipur’s beautiful ancient treasure

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WOW. 

This was all we could utter upon seeing Amber Fort that late afternoon in May.

The Amber Fort stood there, grand and imposing; looking down on us from a hilltop.  We had such a tiring day after a very long 8 hour drive from New Delhi. The weather was extremely hot at 40 °C, that mum & I felt all of our body fluids were drained. We were very exhausted from our very long journey and upon seeing Amber Fort and the lake below it, we immediately felt refreshed.

The Amber fort landscape looked really majestic from afar; but the sheer size of it blew us away. I couldn’t contain my excitement as we planned to visit it the next day. Built in the late 1500s, the fort is over 400 years old. It’s one of the major tourist attractions in Jaipur area, and only 11 km away from the Pink city.

Time Space Warp

We made our way into Amber Fort the following morning after some light breakfast at our Indian hotel. As was expected, Amber Fort’s location offers spectacular views of the city below. Once we got inside, I thought we were transported back in time. It looked very ancient, unique and just truly majestic out there. We were in an out of this world era, all so suddenly.

You can get inside using your vehicle or by riding an elephant. We saw a number of tourists who took this mode of transportation during our visit.

What was it for and what to expect?

A royal family lived in Amber Fort in the ancient times, so its layout had to be appropriate as royal residence. Inside this massive structure are numerous courtyards, halls, rooms and patios, all to display the affluence of the royalty that lived there.

Sheesh Mahal, or Mirror Palace is in one of the courtyards. It’s a building built with many mirrors that should be akin to the stars up in the sky, when candles are lit at night time. The mirrors are made of coloured foil and paint.

Beautiful, intricate designs were carved on the marble at wall panels of the Mirror Palace.  Our guide pointed to us this particular flower image carved at the marble on one of the pillars. It’s admired for its soft, intricate and unique detail: notice the fish tail on the flowers, and how they blended quite well with the overall image:

One thing I learned in India: their have great artistic inclination and their attention to detail is unbelievable!

Some of the courtyards were used to hold victory parties for wars won and some were to hold public announcements/gatherings. The rest of them were private quarters of the royal family, or the concubines.

The vast, ancient courtyards, its great sturdy halls, intricate wall carvings and latticework: all of them were said to be inspired by both Hindu and Muslim influence. There’s a garden and a beautiful lake (Maota lake) that can be seen from below Amber Fort that adds to the dramatic beauty of this landscape. They all fit together remarkably well, making Amber Fort a must-see destination in Jaipur.

Tip:  There are many guides at the entrance that offer their tour services. Unless you have all day and you are feeling adventurous, I do not recommend just exploring on your own as the site is huge.

A guide would be able to tell you where to go next, how to navigate your way through, which is helpful if you’re on a tight schedule. Also, the guide is able to give you an enormous amount of historical information about the place, which is quite helpful for a visitor to fully appreciate what they are seeing. Ask, and agree on a price before getting the service. We asked our driver from New Delhi what a reasonable rate is to pay for the guide, so it helped us prepare and negotiate when we got there.

Have you been to Amber Fort? Tell us what you think about it!