Do’s and Don’ts when travelling in Xi’an, China

If your New Year Resolution is to travel more and explore the great outdoors, then Nashata’s blog is the right page to follow. For 2019, I am delighted to share my experiences. Traveling and the great outdoors not only enriches our lives – it is also encouraged by our religion to explore: “It is He who made the earth tame for you – so walk among its slopes and eat of His provision – and to Him is the resurrection.” – Surah Al-Mulk, 15.

So exploring did we go. For this episode of traveling, we went to Xi’an to experience winter in China. As one of the few Muslim-friendly places in China, I highly recommend for anyone to come here. To make your traveling experiences easier if you want to come here, I have summarized a list of Do’s and Don’ts:

DO’S

  1. Go to the historical sites
  • As one of the ancient capitals of China, Xi’an has witnessed various dynasties, with emperors trying to outdo each other with their palaces, defense structures, and tombs. A historical place that you must not miss is the Terracotta Army.

  • Xi’an is also said to be the starting point of the Silk Road. So immerse yourself in the unique local culture that is a product of thousands of years of intermingling with India, Mongolia, Persian, Arabs, and Greeks. A cultural place that you must not miss is the Muslim Quarter and the Great Mosque of Xi’an.

2. Thorough research

  • Read on historical sites to gain appreciation of their significance
  • Find a reputable hotel with a strategic location, preferably near landmarks in the city centre like the Bell Tower, Drum Tower, or Muslim Quarter.
  • As China is moving towards a cashless society, credit cards and debit cards are phasing out. Ironically, travelers will need extra cash because we could not use the cashless system as we do not have a local bank account. So make sure you budget accordingly.

3. Try the local food

  • The Muslim population in Xi’an is sizable, thus, there are many halal options. Most of the items listed are easily found in the Muslim Quarter, but there are many halal restaurants out of the city too. Top 5 food you must not miss are:

    Dumpling soup

    Lamb Kebabs

    Yangrou Paomao

    Biangbiang noodles

    Roujiamao

DON’T….

  1. Go shopping
  • Most of the products is not that unique and mass produced. In fact, I saw the same handicraft that was available in Bangkok, Phuket, Indonesia, etc, It looks like everything produced in this world really are “Made in China”!

2. Never forget to bring tissues

  • Always pack wet tissues and dry tissues
  • Soap is not widely available at most toilets

3. Don’t expect everyone to understand English

  • Unfortunately, I don’t speak and read a word of Mandarin. And English is not widely spoken in Xi’an. There will be moments of frustration when people don’t understand. To overcome the language barrier, download a Mandarin-English translation app.

 

Sir Bani Yas Challenge (29-30 March 2018)

Marwa Al Wadhahi, a young Omani lady who is enthusiastic about sports and adventure shares her experience at the Sir Bani Yas Challenge 2018. She loves challenges, pushing her limits and experiencing new things. She works in the Oil & Gas industry during the day and passionately practices sports in the evening and holidays. 

Marwa Al Wadhahi

I was very excited when I saw the announcement of Sir Bani Yas Challenge which was originally consisting of 3 km of kayaking, 10 km of trail running and 37 km of cycling. I was excited because I never cycled and kayaked these distances, I’ve never been to Sir Bani Yas and I’ve never done a 50 km challenge in single day. Basically the challenge had a variety of activities and in a unique and exciting venue.

Wildlife at Sir Bani Yas

Sir Bani Yas Island in the Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, was the venue of the challenge. The island was one of the first “Greening of the Desert” projects established by Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan in 1971. Over the years it became one of the UAE largest animal reserves and is home to over 15,000 free roaming animals and birds.

Due to circumstances out of control, the cycling was cancelled and the challenge was modified to become a total of +33 km of an amazing hike on & between mountains, fun kayaking and a long trail run.

The challenge was tough, we started at 6.30 am where the weather was foggy and nice then it got hotter as time passed approaching noon. I personally absolutely loved the hike and the kayaking, I found the trail run (which was the majority of the race) fun at the beginning but then it was really torturous due to the heat, strong pulsing cramps and trail that felt like infinity as the long distance was new to me.

I pushed myself hard, I felt like crying, I felt like giving up, I thought to myself “What made me do this? What was I thinking” I literally felt physically and mentally exhausted. However, because I signed up for the challenge with a mindset and goal to finish as a minimum and despite all the pain and torture I felt, I was absolutely determined to finish, I limped, I walked, I jogged with pain until the finish line.

Husaak Support Stations

On the other hand, the organisers, Husaak Adventures, and fellow participants along the way were very supportive which injected me with positive energy amid the suffering, I smiled to them, felt positive and said to myself that I can do it and I should not give up even though I felt like it! Giving up was just not an option for me. I had fun chatting with some participants along the way and cheering others to continue as well which really makes a difference and pushes people further. Organizers were at the water/food stations and also driving back and forth with cars cheering, checking on us and supplying water

Hiking Trail Views

With a few hundred people participating, Alhamdulillah I’m proud to finish 4th out of more than a 100 female participants, and 33th Overall out of almost 300 male & female participants 🏁 I really pushed myself that day. I haven’t had specific training for this event, just my regular gym training. So I was basically fit but not really trained for this kind of long distance running.

Trail Run

I believe if I hydrated more in the weeks leading to the event and practiced long runs, it would have went even better. Maybe I wasn’t trained enough or ready to go at the pace I was going at but the experience was definitely enriching. The feeling of true struggle that I haven’t felt in a long time, but pushing hard and fighting pain & fatigue to reach the finish line was priceless.

Semenggoh Wildlife Centre

“The least I can do is speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves” – Jane Goodall, primatologist, ethologist, anthropologist, and UN Messenger of Peace.

I am no animal expert or hardly the Jane Goodall of Malaysia, but I do believe that we need to learn about the natural flora and fauna. After releasing baby turtles from a hatchery last year, endangered animals have a special place in my heart . Since I was in Kuching, Sarawak, last weekend, I took the opportunity to visit Semenggoh Wildlife Centre where they run an orang utan rehabilitation programme. The orang utan too, is an endangered species in Malaysia, mainly due to logging, destruction of their natural habitat, or illegally kept as pets.

IMG_5114Activewear is the best form of travel wear

The best time to visit them is during their feeding time (9am or 3pm). At this rehabilitation centre, they are free to roam yet they are not encouraged to come in close contact with humans. This is to ensure that the injured or orphaned orang utans are assimilated back into their natural habitat as soon as possible with minimized exposure to humans. Therefore they will only come out during their feeding time, and visitors can watch within a safe distance.  They are still unpredictable wild animals, so the consequences are unimaginable if they run amok.

At exactly 3pm, we head to the feeding station. On the day that we visited, there were not many orang utan that showed up, because according to the guide it is now fruiting season so food are plenty in the jungle and they might already be full. However, we were lucky enough to witness a mother with its baby and another young juvenile. They seem to know that the daily feeding schedule is at 9am or 3pm!

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IMG_5086The feeding station. Mom with her baby, while a younger juvenile waits for his/her turn to take food to avoid confrontation.

Orang utan might look cute with their orange fuzzy hair, big eyes, and limbering movement yet do not be deceived by their childish appeal.  Orang utans are actually smart and strong creatures. Out of all the fruits that were presented by the guide, they chose coconuts. This is an interesting observation to me. Coconuts are not a part of their normal diet (coconut trees are not abundant in dense rainforest jungle). Without any tools, they figured out how to crack the coconuts open by smashing the shell against a hard surface like a tree trunk. This is also how the mother passed down skills required for its offspring to survive in the jungle.

I wonder will my children or grandchildren will ever be able to observe these interesting animals too in the future? If we do not continue to preserve the nature and treat it with respect, then the only animals that our future generation will be able to watch are kept behind bars in zoo or behind the screen in the television. I believe that with educational trips such as this, more people will learn to appreciate wild, endangered animals. In words of Jane Goodall,

“The greatest danger to our future is apathy”

Until next week,

The Weekend Runner.

For more info: http://www.sarawakforestry.com/htm/snp-nr-semenggoh.html

KL Towerthon 2016

Once again I find myself at the base of the iconic KL Tower on a fine Sunday morning, ready to take on 2058 steps to get to the top of the tower. I did this Towerthon race last year, so I decided to participate again this year to challenge myself if there was any improvements and if I could beat last year’s personal record of 36 minutes.

As usual, they flagged us off in waves to prevent bottlenecks at the staircase, so as everyone fell into their own pace the crowd was evenly spread out. No one was jostling or pushing to overtake each other on the staircase. I recalled feelings of claustrophobic and monotony last year, but this time I was mentally prepared.

IMG_3976Are we there yet?

Upon completing the race at the top, I did not feel any muscle aches or joint pains from climbing the stairs. Maybe all of those squats and strength training paid off, or maybe the recent mini-hike during Taman Negara’s trip had prepared my legs. However, I was feeling breathless and nauseous from the elevation gained. I can feel the blood pounding and pumping in my head. Unfortunately, I don’t think I beat last year’s record of 36 minutes.

IMG_3977One more floor to go until we reach the finishing line at the top!

The only way to get down was to get on the passenger lift. I was disappointed with the crowd management this year. Last year, transferring the participants from the finishing line to the base of the tower was very fast and smooth. We did not wait for a long time to get into the lifts. But this time, hundreds of participants ended up waiting for 1 hour and 15 minutes (or more!) in a very narrow and hot space for the lift to get us down. There were a few participants who fainted due to the heat, exhaustion, and dehydration. The poor crowd management portrayed a negative image to our country’s iconic attraction too, as there was an international participant who expressed her dissatisfaction by saying she will never participate in an event like this again.

IMG_3989What goes up, must come down. Or in Towerthon’s case, it might take 1 hour 15 minutes to be able to go down. Everyone was getting agitated at this point.

On a positive note, I decided to continue last year’s spirit of being a tourist in my own city. Despite being born and bred in Kuala Lumpur, I could not remember when was the last time I visited the observation deck of the KL Tower. So my friend and I took advantage of the promotional price offered and bought tickets to the open-air observation deck and a new attraction called Skybox.

IMG_4015Skybox is an extended platform made from glass, giving viewers an unobstructed view of the city. Just a piece of glass separating you from going 431 meters down.

Looking at KL city from a different perspective, I can’t believe this is the city that I grew up in because it looked so different from above. I felt as if I was discovering a different city. Sometimes, you don’t have to go very far to feel like you are on a mini-vacation – all you need to do is explore your own backyard.

IMG_3999Hello Kuala Lumpur. You look beautiful from up here.

Until next week,

The Weekend Runner

Try White Water Rafting for a Healthy Adrenaline Rush

Sometimes you need to exercise solo, sometimes in a group. Both have their own benefits. If you want to try out something different in a group, consider water rafting and caving.

Get a group of minimum four pax to go onto an outdoor thrill. My team was lucky to have found a place that offered a day activity for rafting and caving. Riverbug Asia in Gopeng, Perak offers a wide range of outdoor activities.

Riverbug Gopeng Activities

Riverbug Gopeng Activities

 

My party of five drove to Gopeng toll and waited for Riverbug Asia representative to lead the way to the Ulu River Lodge, Kampung Jahang, Gopeng. The drive to the lodge from the main road was quite long and it was on untarred road. So make sure you drive a vehicle with right tires. You will pass through houses and see many durian, palm oil and rubber trees.

At the Riverlodge, we were introduced to our guide, Max. We placed our belongings in the lockers provided and after that Max drove us to the river raft area, a few kilometers away from the Riverlodge. We had to stand in the truck throughout and it was quite an exciting ride.

Max giving 10 mins brief

Max giving 10 mins brief

At the river raft point, we put on the gears; helmets and life-jackets, and grabbed the paddles. Max then gave a 15 mins brief on safety and instructions on how to raft. The rafting level was 3, and water level low. Max is a good guide. He not only briefed us, he made sure we had a bit of a practice in the water.

Floating in the River

Techniques to Float

Then off we went onto the raft, 7 km down the cool and clear river. We were told the water comes from the hills of Cameron Highlands. We went through four tough rapids, using different types of techniques. Despite the train and instructions, one could easily fall into the waters. Two of our teammates did, but the training and practices helped us to stay calm and help each other.

From this picture you could tell who was doing all the hard work

From this picture you could tell who was doing all the hard work

 

We stopped to swim a couple of times at areas with lesser rocks. The water was cold and refreshing and if you are lucky like us, you would see rajah brooke’s butterfly other than beautiful birds around the area.

Our final stop was at the Riverlodge. Max actually let us off the raft, form a long line by holding each other’s life jacket in the water and glide in the drift together.

It was truly a fun and exciting activity for a team.

What to bring when you raft?

Lockers are provided at no extra charge, so you can keep ALL your personal belongings there. No other items are required when you hop onto the truck or van. They also provide water bottles for you in the raft. There is also a small dry bag in the raft to put locker keys. Put on sunblock before you go onto the van.

  • Watercamera but make sure you have a secure pocket to keep it
    Riverbug Asia takes pictures of you while rafting but if you want to take pictures in the water on your own, you can bring one

What should you wear?

Get ready to be all soaked when you go river rafting.

  • Aqua shoes. Avoid wearing your running shoes if you love them
  • Sports hijab (if you are a hijabist)
  • Caps that can be worn together with helmets, but not recommended
  • Bathing suit would be nice, but if you plan not to wear one, consider
    • Long sleeves shirts made of mesh or easy to dry fabric
    • Long pants  mesh or easy to dry fabric, with secure pockets
    • For ladies, wear  sports bra with padding.
      It is good to wear long sleeves to avoid insect bites and to add protection to your skin outdoor
Rafting in Ultra Top & Compression Skirt Pants

Rafting in Ultra Top & Compression Skirt Pants

What’s great about this outfit is its versatility; simply practical with the secure pockets on the skirt pants and the fabric is suitable for both wet and dry use. You could walk out of the river in it, rinse and dry, and wait for the next adventure after lunch.

Oh ya, lunch was provided at a cafe by the river. It was a delicious ‘kampung’ delicacy; rice, lovely chicken curry, friend fish, ulam with sambal belacan and the yummiest tempoyak.

After Dzuhor, we got ready for our next adventure – Caving at Kandu Cave.

The Weekend Runner: Yogyakarta Adventures

After unpacking from my trip in Yogyakarta, I realised that most of my dirty clothes are covered in either volcanic ash or sand. If my clothes could talk, they would probably say “Phew, what an adventure!”. They have seen it all on this trip: noisy markets, mountains, beaches, and many more. If you expect a relaxing, slow paced trip then Yogyakarta is not the place for you. Just like it’s locals, Yogyakarta is bold, resilient, and adventurous, not exactly a place for the faint-hearted.

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I tagged along with a few friends on this trip and they are absolute history buffs. Steeped in rich heritage, culture, and mystical believes, Yogyakarta proved to be the perfect place for them. Therefore, temple tours to Candi Prambanan and Candi Borobudur is a must. Each temple has its own unique features to be explored, so we walked and even climbed a few kilometers to cover the elaborate temple complex. Luckily, I brought along my favourite Jazri Riada tops because they are light, comfortable, and cool. Plus, no sweat marks in photos because they evaporate sweat too!

 

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Jazri Riada is made for exploring! I brought along my both of my favourite colours.

IMG_0302Candi Borobudur is best viewed during sunrise. To get to the viewing point, we had to do a short hike up Punthuk Setumbu. The view at the top is all worth the work out.

11889600_10207356714225912_6603914117845254114_n11960156_10203312878421521_3779639741325860584_n11896004_10207356716985981_6713033447156715573_nThe famous Candi Borobudur. I can recall some of these pictures from my secondary school textbooks.

 

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Candi Prambanan. As opposed to the Buddha influences in Candi Borobudur, this temple is actually a Hindu temple.

 

Besides temples and historical sites, Yogyakarta is also well-known for its natural attractions. It’s diverse landscape ranging from volcanoes, mountains, rivers, and beaches proves to be a giant playground for outdoor enthusiasts. However, since we are pressed for time, we managed to squeeze in a volcanic tour around Mount Merapi which is still an active volcano, and sunset by Parangtritis Beach.

IMG_0407One of the many active volcanoes looming ahead. Powerful, omnipresent, and highly respected by the locals.

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A trip to Yogyakarta will not be complete without a trip to the volcanic site. This is still an active volcano so the tour will not take you directly to the active site.

 

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11960105_10207360480960078_4400998598969834602_nYou need to rent a jeep and a guide because most roads are not accessible by cars. 

11921634_10207360484320162_8078637467946233065_nIn Malaysia, sandy beaches are usually white (if not polluted). However, Parangtritis beaches have black sand because of the surrounding volcano.

11947658_10207360485720197_7771330899787980101_nI wish I brought along a swimsuit!

11924765_10207360486640220_3419597861974654023_nSunset by the beach

 

At the end of this trip, my mind lingers to a popular quote that goes “Travelling is the only thing that you buy to make yourself richer” and I can’t help but to agree with that saying. Yogyakarta has left me with a deeper appreciation for other cultures, Mother Nature, and God’s almighty powers. So, where will my next adventure be?

 

Until next week,

The Weekend Runner.