The Heart of Sichuan – Chengdu in 3 days

Chengdu is a great stop on your China itinerary or if you live in the region a perfect long weekend getaway. Famous for it black and white cuddly bears and mouth numbing Sichuan cuisine, Chengdu is a marvellous hot pot of all things Chinese (pun intended). Three days gives enough time to explore the city and its surroundings, here’s what we did.

Day 1

As you arrive in the capital of western China, be sure to stay in a quaint old Chinese house converted into a hotel. We stayed in one called Buddha Zen and it was gorgeous.

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Take day 1 to immerse yourself in the sensory overload that is Chengdu. Start in Jinli road, next to the Wu Hou shrine.

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This beautiful old quarter with winding alleyways, lakes and bridges is part of the oldest areas still in tact in Chengdu.

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Spend a good half of the day getting lost in Jinli, pop in to the peaceful, meticulously curated ground areas of the shrine (entrance ticket required, as of March 2018 it was RMB 60), admire the old stage right in the middle of Jinli road that still has Sichuan Opera performances during festival times, pick out a few trinkets from one of the many kiosks lining the road.

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Most of all, try the food. You’ll discover taste buds and sensations you didn’t know existed! If you are more adventurous than us, try rabbit head or duck head (beak and all) or pig nose!

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And if you arent, sit in one of the many Sichuan hot pot places and let your mouth explode! The one thing that welcomes you to Chengdu is the smell of hot pot. I kid you not, while you are walking on the streets, riding in a taxi, there is no escaping this amazingly peppery smell. So immerse yourself in this truly Sichuan experience. Locals spend hours “hot potting”, we spent just over an hour at most, but take your time, try everything!

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After Jinli road, if you are into more ancient alleyways head over to Kuan Zhai Xiangzi, translated the wide and narrow alleyways. Basically there are two: one wide, the other also pretty much the same size, but I guess considered narrow? We preferred Kuan Xiangzi because for some reason it felt less chaotic and had a beautiful overhead tree covering.

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Pop over to one of the many quaint tea houses down the alleyways. Pick from an array of Chinese teas and order a bowl of melon seeds. Getting to the edible center of the melon seed takes some effort, unless you master the skill every local seems to have of extracting the seed with just one bite.

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Either way, you’ll spend a good part of your afternoon in this tea experience.

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Don’t be surprised if someone with an armful of strange looking tools walks up to you and offers to clean your ear. This seems to be a truly Sichuan experience. I can’t guarantee the hygiene of this “cleaning process” because they seem to use the same tools on everyone! But apparently it’s a therapeutic exercise that goes well with tea.

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Next take a 20 min walk over to people’s park for some people watching. Join a game of mahjong or do some Tai Chi with the locals or simply walk around the park and watch the day go by. If you are interested in the local arts (I highly recommend this) head over to Shu Feng Ya Yun inside the park for a night at the opera. Note that the tickets sell out fast and need to be bought in advance. Marvel at the high pitched voices of the opera singers and the costume and mask changing illusionists. The latter way by far our favourite. We even recorded the act in slow mo to figure out how it’s done, but they are too good! The masks themselves are gorgeously decorated and the whole act is perfectly coordinated.

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Day 2

Today will probably be the highlight of your trip to Chengdu and is probably the reason you are making the trip in the first place.

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So wake up early and make your way to one of the Panda breeding centers. Now you’ve got a few options

1. The giant panda breeding center – this is close to town and is the most popular spot to see the pandas, it also has the most amount of pandas

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2. Dujiangyan – a 90 min drive out of Chengdu, this is a smaller base, but offers the coveted panda keeper volunteer program, read more about it here.

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3. Wolong panda breeding center – it’s pretty much the same as Dujiangyan because it’s run by the same people and has the volunteer program, but is 3 hours away from Chengdu. So why go? Wolong is known to be the original home of pandas, so if that matters this is the place to visit.

Whichever option you pick, remember to go early for two reasons (1) beat the crowds, especially those coming in massive tour buses (2) pandas are active only in the morning till around 10-11am, after that is nap time!

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If you do the volunteer program, you’ll spend pretty much the whole day at the base. If you go only to visit the pandas, it will take you at least half a day because you won’t be able to take your eyes off those cute and curious creatures. Read about our play date with the pandas here.

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If you still have time and energy when you get back into town, you can head to the ancient Wen Shu monastery. If you are all monasteried out, you’ll still love the old town area the monastery is located in.

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More winding alleyways, tiny shops and quaint tea houses, what’s not to love.

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This evening why not consider a food tour? After the pandas, this is probably the other reason you are in town. While you’ve probably has a good dose of hot pot and stir fry, food tours offer amazing insight into the local cuisine and takes you to some amazing, hidden restaurants that will otherwise be completely off your radar. We did our food tour with Lost Plate, read about our one heck of a culinary adventure here.

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Day 3

Take a day trip to the UNESCO world heritage site – the Leshan Giant Buddha statue, supposedly the largest in the world. Leshan is just over 2 hours drive by car (it can take up to 4 hours if you take public transport).

Once in Leshan you have two options:

1. Do the 3 hour hike to the Buddha statue – the good part is you get really up close to the statue. However, it can get very very crowded and you will spend the better part of you time standing in the long single file queue with noisy tourists.

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2. Take a boat ride – personally I recommend this option. The mammoth statue faces a river, and if you take a mere 30 min boat ride you get a much better view and an opportunity to take as many pictures as you want of the entire statue

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If you take option 2, the Lehsan excursion will last around 5 hours, and if you hike it would take around 8. In any case it will take you pretty much the whole day.

Once back in Chengdu head over to Jiuyanqiao bar street. This beautiful area by the most has a number of interesting bars and of course the beautifully arched Anshun bridge. This is a great spot to say “Gambe” to your weekend in Chengdu.

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A play date with the pandas

Seeing pandas in Chengdu was a dream, part of our bucket list. For us Chengdu was synonymous with the cute and cuddly panda bears, so much so that unknowingly we had rechristened our favourite Sichuan restaurant back home Chengdu Panda. We honestly thought that’s what it was called until one day after recommending the place to some friends who then later walked all over Chinatown in Singapore in search on Chengdu Panda without much luck, did we realise the place was named Old Chengdu. But our brains saw Chengdu and thought panda, so for years we visited the place unknowingly calling it that. Anyway the point is we love pandas, so off we went to Chengdu to see them.

We wanted to get as up close and personal with the pandas as possible, so we booked the panda keeper volunteer program at the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda, Dujiangyan Base.

Pro tip: this “volunteer” experience is a paid one and you have to book well in advance because they only take in 30 volunteers. Book directly with the center, if not various travel agents will charge you a crazy amount of money. We paid RMB 700 per person in March 2018, which in itself was quite expensive. They don’t have a proper website that I could find, so email them pandaeducatecenter@163.com.

Our day started early as we had to make the 70 min journey from Chengdu to Dujiangyan. The program starts at 9, but get there early so you can finish all the paperwork and make payment (made directly to the center with cash or card). We were then divided into groups, 6 in a group led by their lovely English speaking staff.

We dressed up as panda keepers in blue jumpsuits and gloves and hopped in a buggy that took us through the massive bamboo forest to our allotted panda enclosure. And there we got down to business.

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Pro and I were given a cage to clean up and when we walked into the cage, there they were – the cutest two pandas in the world! When they saw us coming in, they rushed to the front of the cage and looked at us with those adorable eyes!

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Doris our group leader was trying to get the two pandas to step out so that we could clean the cage, but the two fur balls refused to leave. I think they liked us! So she had to bribe them with carrots and drag them out. Once we were given the all clear, we opened the doors and set to work. We had to clean out the panda poo and sweep the bamboo leaves off the floor. You can guess who drew the short straw, so I picked up the broom while Pro shovelled away the poo.

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As I was sweeping, Doris came in and sternly asked me to move away from the back door. Without me noticing, the pandas had come back and were right behind me trying to get in (I knew they liked me). As cute as they were, pandas are still bears, Doris reminded us.

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After the clean up, we walked around the center from one enclosure to another to gawk at the cutie pies.

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It was drizzling and we were given rain coats but the good thing is that apparently pandas loved the rain, and it sure looked like they did because they were out and about playing and just being cute.

We started for hours. Started at one panda hugging a tree peacefully asleep..

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…one looking intently at the falling rain drops…or engrossed in his morning prayer..

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….another munching away on fresh green leaves

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..two pandas playing with each other…

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…doing a little stretch dance, maybe tango?

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…pandas sitting like humans and munching on bamboo shoots…

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…pandas believing they can do acrobats..

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…pandas searching for something far in the horizon

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…And finally a 7 month old panda baby curled up into a ball and sleeping!

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When we got back after our walk, it was time to feed the monochrome giants. After their hour in the rain, the pandas made their way back to the cages and prepared themselves for lunch. We were each given a tray of carrot sticks and we sat down in front of the cages and fed them.

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Doris warned us to pull our hands back as soon as the pandas took the carrot, if not our fingers would be part of their lunch. They don’t mean any harm, but those powerful jaws can crush your bones!

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Sitting next to and feeding a panda was a magical experience. They are like big cuddly babies that look at you with imploring eyes. And they way they take the food to their hands and eat!! Really tugging at my heart strings here! At the end of the carrot tray the pandas were rewarded with a bamboo cake which they seemed to love…

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The pandas had eaten, and it was now time for our lunch. We went to the staff canteen and feasted on a buffet of great Sichuan food. When I booked the tour I was told it was going to be a simple lunch, the same as what the staff eat everyday. It was anything but simple. The food was really very good! Read about our Sichuan food experience here.

After lunch they show you a documentary about pandas and releasing them into the wild and post that you repeat the morning tasks of cleaning and feeding.

The last activity of the day is a chance to make the bamboo cake for the pandas, after which you get a certificate for being a panda keeper.

If you want to pay a hefty fee of RMB 1800 (as of March 2018) you can opt to hug a panda and take a picture. It’s strictly for 20 seconds and you get to sit next to a panda and have your arm around him. We didn’t think it was worth the money since we anyway got very very close and were in fact able to touch the pandas during the day.

Pro tip: if you don’t want to spend the entire day at the center you can be like us and skip the afternoon activities. We wanted to go back to Chengdu since we only had 3 days and tons more to see and do in town. Read our 3 day Chengdu itinerary here. Although you end up paying the full amount even if you do a half day volunteer, it saves you some time and anyway the afternoon is a repeat of the morning.

All in all it was a wonderful play date with pandas, getting really up close and personal with these once critically endangered species.

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Know before you go

  • You can volunteer in one of two places – the Dujiangyan base or the Wolong base – both run by the same company so the experience is pretty much the same. Dujiangyan is 1.5 hour drive from Chengdu, Wolong is 3 hours away, thats the only difference you need to consider
  • The interaction you get with pandas with the volunteer program is limited to feeding them
  • When you clean their cages, make bamboo cake etc, there are no pandas around
  • You get to walk around the park to see the pandas in their enclosures – this is the same as what you would get if you buy a normal ticket priced at RMB 50, so its a big price difference
  • Bulky cameras like a DSLR aren’t allowed while you are volunteering so you will have to be happy with photos from a phone camera
  • All in all what you pay for is the chance to feed the pandas (unless you are really into cleaning cages :)), this time is roughly around 1-2 mins. Of course you can touch, stroke them while you are at it.

How to get there – there are 3 ways to get to the base:

  1. Taxi: you can show the driver this words, :四川省都江堰市青城山镇石桥村中国大熊猫保护研究中心都江堰基地(怀中路青城山镇与大观镇之间)
  2. Train: take subway to XIPU(犀浦), then take the train around 7:53 in the morning from XIPU(犀浦)to Qingchengshan Railway station(青城山站) then take No. 102 bus to Panda Base (熊猫乐园)
  3. Bus:Take bus from Chadianzi (茶店子客运站) to Dujiangyan(都江堰)then take No. 102 bus to Panda Base

Not wanting to risk getting lost early in the morning we booked the transfer through Chengdu Holiday (chengduholiday@yahoo.com) well in advanced and paid RMB 600. This seemed to be the standard lowest price we could find.

Hope you enjoyed the story of our play date with the pandas. If you are interested in doing the same and have more questions, give us a shout in the comments below and we’ll get back to you.

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Trans Siberian Rail Journey – everything you need to know

Firstly lets start with definitions. There are a few “trans” trains in this region that are used interchangeably, so to avoid any confusions these are the names you’d hear –

  1. Trans Siberian: this is the most famous one, partly owing to the movie and partly because it is the longest train journey on the planet. This goes between Moscow and Vladivostok on the east coast of Russia.
  2. Trans Mongolian: as the name suggests this branches out from the Trans Siberian and goes across Mongolia to Ulaanbataar and Beijing.
  3. Trans Manchurian: this goes all the way across China to Harbin and then to Beijing

Most people take the Trans Siberian and its branch Trans Mongolian all the way to Beijing and skip the cold of the Russian east coast. This is what we took, covering 6000km on rail.

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How to book the Trans Siberian tickets

Unfortunately there is no official rail website where you can buy these tickets, you have to go through a Russian travel agent or a 3P website. I suggest you pick a Russian travel agent as it gives you a few advantages

  • You can customise the itinerary as you wish, getting off and on from different stations and spending as much time as you want along the way
  • Its MUCH cheaper than buying it from a local travel agent. We tried buying off some Singaporean agents and the cost was more than double. We met a Norwegian couple on the train and they had the exact same experience trying to buy from Oslo.

If you are planning on making some stops in between, remember that you can’t buy one ticket. It doesn’t work like a hop on hop off. You will need to buy as many tickets depending on the number of stops you make. We stopped in Irkutsk and Ulaanbataar, so we had to buy 3 tickets: Moscow – Irkutsk, Irkutsk – Ulaanbataar, Ulaanbataar – Beijing.

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Our Trans Siberian Rail Tickets!!

Picking the right train

There are normal trains and express trains depending on the dates you pick to go. If you make stops in between in Siberia, you might end up in a normal train that doesn’t go all the way. This is not ideal because its slower and stops in many places. The normal trains don’t have first class. If your travel agent offers you first class on a normal train, that means he’s giving you a second class cabin to yourself.

Check out seat61.com to get a detailed understanding of each train. We took train number 4 from Moscow to Irkutsk and train number 306 from Irkutsk.

There are also Russian, Chinese and Mongolian (run by Russians) trains. Depending on the flag of the train the staff will be from that country. Although neither really speaks any English, this is something to keep in mind.

Solely based on the two trains we travelled in, my biggest advice is to pick the Russian or Mongolian trains. They are newer, MUCH MUCH MUCH cleaner, better maintained with staff who were more professional.

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The beautiful Russian train staff

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The slightly annoyed at being photographed Chinese staff

Picking the right cabin 

You have an options of picking from

First class: there are two per cabin, although one is still a bunk bed. There is also one “shower” room between two cabins, so you have to share with your neighbours. This has a sink, tap and a shower. However, don’t attempt a full shower because the doors aren’t entirely sealed and it will start leaking into the cabins. Trust me, it happened to us. A damp carpet in your cabin is not what you want on the longest train journey on the planet. There are 2 toilets for each carriage, which usually has 16 people. There is enough storage for 3 big bags, 1 small bag and 1 back pack, very comfortably. The cabin also has a power socket for all your devices.

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Inside the Moscow – Irkutsk Chinese Train

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Our wonderful cabin inside the Irkutsk – Ulaanbataar Russian Train

Second class: this has 2 bunk beds for 4 people and can be a little bit cramped up.

Third class: I haven’t personally seen this, but everything I have read that one should not to take the third class cabin unless you are Russian.

When to go: Summer vs Winter 

Ah here is a question we mulled over for quite some time. Go in the summer when the sun is out and the temperature is comfortable or see Siberia like how we’ve heard all our lives – completely frozen. We picked the latter and I will personally recommend it, although I have no comparator. Winter is Siberia is bitterly cold, but with the right clothes, its beauty is beyond words. Miles and miles of monochrome landscape gleaming in the winter sun.

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Siberian landscape as the train slowly rolled past

We did consider a middle ground in our typical compromising style and although I haven’t personally experienced it, some Russian friends advised us not to go there in Spring when the thaw happens. The melting snow slush makes everything cold and not so beautiful.

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Onboard!

Where to go

The popular stops along the way are

  1. Yekaterinburg – if you want to see the remains of the last Tsar Romanov family or enter the heart of what was once the center of Russian organized crime.
  2. Irkutsk – to see the breathtaking Lake Bikal. Read about our stop over in the most famous part of Siberia here.
  3. Ulaan Baatar – enter the wilderness of the Steppes and Gobi desert through Mongolia’s capital

While on the train

The first thing to keep in mind is the time table on board the train. These timetables were made before smart phones and GPS and also keeping in mind the patchy connection in the middle of nowhere, so all times are in Moscow time. This can be a bit confusing at first especially because you cross about 5 time zones enroute, so it makes sense to have Moscow time on your phone.

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The slightly confusing time table on board our train #4

The weird part is that when you stop at stations, the time shown on the station clock is also Moscow time!

Everyday the train will stop 3-4 times. Once in the middle of the night and maybe 2-3 times during the day. Each stop will be about 15-20 minutes but they start calling you back after about 5-10 minutes so you don’t get much time on ground. In any case you cant go too far, just in case the train leaves without you. You can hop off the train to stretch your legs or buy some essentials. In the winter we didn’t see many stores, but this could be different in the summer. The stores we came across had all the basic necessities – toilet paper (although your bum might scream in pain if you use it), cup noodles, bread, chips etc. We also came across some roast chicken, bacon and fried fish although its freshness is suspect.

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Small stores on the platform selling food and basic necessities

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Another quick stop at midnight. Weather: -20 degrees and light snow fall!

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Fried fish being sold by vendors

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Pro and his dad coming back with groceries

The restaurant car

There is a very warm restaurant car on each train. The food is very very mediocre and over priced. We had soup which surprisingly tasted fresh and good, but the roast meat and sandwiches were quite bad. The bread was stale and the meat was hard and chewy.

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The train conductors cooked their own momos!!! and luckily for us shared them with us

Each carriage has a hot water dispenser where you can get unlimited hot water ranging around 80 degrees.

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Pro’s dad filling hot water into the flask provided by the train

Be ware that some trains do not have restaurant cars. The one we took from Irkutsk to Ulaanbataar only did that leg and since it was just a day and a half, there was no restaurant car on the train. Imagine our surprise heading for dinner! But the staff onboard did sell tea, coffee and snacks. The coffee came in very fancy crystal mugs!

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Coffee served in fancy crystal mugs and metal holders

What to pack

Food – since the food onboard is limited and there isn’t much to buy from the train stations, we packed most of the food we needed. This included

  • Cup noodles
  • Cup soup
  • Tin fish
  • Cheese
  • Salami
  • Beef jerky
  • Instant rice (Dont judge, us Sri Lankans cant go long without rice)
  • Some packeted Sri Lankan food – seeni sambol, pol sambol, fried sprats
  • Vermicilli (since its easy to cook – you only need to dip in boiling water)
  • Fruits
  • Tea
  • Instant coffee
  • Milk powder
  • Ready to eat Quinoa mix from Jamie Oliver
  • Biscuits
  • Chocolate
  • Nuts
  • Whiskey
  • Vodka (we were in Russia after all)

We had also taken some cutlery

  • Disposable plates
  • Forks, knives, spoons, scissor
  • Cups
  • Flask: so that we could easily take the hot water back into our cabin

Other than that we packed

  • Toilet paper
  • Wet wipes for the body
  • Lip balm
  • Enough moisturizer
  • Swiss army knife
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We borrowed a pot from the staff and cooked rice!!!

How to pack

We had arrived in Russia with two big suitcases on wheels. But since the cabins are small and room to manoeuvre is minimum we also took with us some foldable duffle bags. The clothes and toiletries we need on board was packed in one duffle and the food was packed in another. This was Pro’s ingenious idea and worked brilliantly for us.

What you get onboard 

You will get a bed sheet, duvet, blanket and mattress cover, pillow and pillow cover. They also give you a plate and a hot water flask – its cleanliness is questionable so we didn’t really use these.

The Toilets

This is a stress point for me and I couldn’t find much online. So if you are finicky like me, here are the deats.

Moscow-Irkutsk (Chinese Train) – We were in first class and only 6 people including ourselves were using the toilet. It was a metal toilet, with a flush peddle that you had to step on. Overall it looked clean, although I didn’t dare sit on that toilet seat. From time to time it smelled a bit bad, but there wasn’t much choice.

Irkutsk onwards (Russian Train) – The toilets were in great condition here! the set up was exactly the same as the train before, however it was MUCH cleaner and regularly cleaned. There was fresh toilet paper and hand towels as well as liquid soap.

Border crossing

If you take the train all the way from Russia to China or vice versa, you will experience 2 border crossings and therefore 4 check points as you cross each country. This is what you need to know

  • The train stops and immigration and customs officers board the train and will come to you to do the check. You are not allowed to get off the train or wander about inside the train until all checks are completed.
  • You also can’t use the toilet (since its stopped in a station) till the checks are completed. So remember to finish all your business before the train stops
  • You will receive an immigration and customs declaration form from the train staff before the check point so remember to fill them up as soon as you get it
  • Keep your passport and forms ready to be checked when the officials board the train
  • Also keep your luggage ready to be checked. If you have any bags kept in the luggage space on top, bring them down and keep them ready
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Mongolia border check

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Russia border check

We haven’t answered all your questions? Leave a comment and we’ll respond.

How to NOT Quit Your Day Job and Travel

There are tons of articles and inspirational stories about how people quit their jobs and traveled the world, how people made a living out of it or even found ways to travel the word for free. But not all of us have that luxury or the need to do so, some of us have commitments and in fact some of us actually love our day jobs. Taking a break and traveling somehow makes it more special, more earned, more sought after. Everything over done can be boring and I for one never want travel to be boring. So here’s an article, for a change, about how to travel relatively excessively while still having a full time job.

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The first thing we see as we wake up each day – a push pin map up on our bedroom wall

1. Have that burning desire to travel…for adventure, to see and experience new things – unless you really really want to travel it’s not going to happen. You may look at other people’s pictures and stories wishfully but if you don’t want it badly enough it ain’t gonna happen. Travel is going to cost you and that “payment” in return for all those memorable experiences has to be more important than a lot of other material things. If travel isn’t your priority then again it ain’t gonna happen, make the choice and don’t complain. #noexcuses

2. Maximize number of days – the first question people always ask us is how we manage to do it with a full time job, how we manage to get days off work. Actually it’s quite simple – here our secret (might be very obvious when you read it). We plan all our travels around public holidays. Every additional day you get to spend in some exotic location is like gold when you have a full time job. Unfortunately for us Singapore (where we live) doesn’t have a lot of public holidays unlike our beautiful motherland (Sri Lanka) but we make it work.

Here’s our actual holiday calendar from last year –

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3. Plan well in advance – this I know for a lot of people is a huge hassle, then do yourself a favour and hire a travel agent (if you want I highly recommend THE TRAVELLED :)) lots of people travel during long weekends and prices soar! The only way out is early planning. Also if you want to experience some of the most unique things that sell out fast, there is no other choice.

Pro had to book a meal at Jules Verne inside the Eiffel Tower 6 months in advance as a surprise during our trip to Paris. Even then he couldn’t get us in for dinner.

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An exclusive look out, reserved only for diners at Jules Verne on top of the Eiffle Tower

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We bought the passes to see the mountain gorillas forever in advance because it was a bucket list item we really wanted to tick while in Africa.

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Coming up close and personal with a Silverback Mountain Gorilla, during our trek in Rwanda

4. Make use of benefits your work place offers – if you are lucky enough to work for a progressive company that believes in things like agile working, make use of it! Be disciplined about and ensure you don’t slack, but working out of a quaint coffee shop in Fremantle with a sea view is way better than sitting at your desk. Plus you still have a few hours everyday to explore your surroundings

 

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Working off a cafe in Fremantle, the coffee though..!

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That very same work day ended like this, just before the sun set

Pro and I go back home every Christmas. We end up spending about 2 weeks in Sri Lanka and work about a week from home. Working from your dining room, having your mum’s home cooked lunch is a gazillion times more satisfying and productive than your office desk. Also you have the entire evening to catch up with friends from home. Precious.

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Home for Christmas

 

5. When work takes you places, extend – if you are blessed enough to travel with work, make the most of it. It’s a bit difficult to plan in advance but sometimes a weekend on either side or just an extra day is all you need. When Pro and I first started traveling way back when we were still working in Sri Lanka, we got the chance to travel to Singapore thrice within a year for a training. We extend each trip and covered 3 other cities – Hong Kong, Phuket and Manila.

Work took me to Africa last year, Pro joined me and we took a week off together.

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Waderlusting at the entrance of the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

Once in London for work, all I needed was one extra day to bask in a rare sunny day during the British Spring.


5. Maximize time on your holiday – we are definitely not the type of tourists that hop on a tour bus and rush from place to place just to snap a quick photo and tick a box. Having said that we do really try to make the most of our holiday. Time is precious when you have a limited number of days off from work and your inbox is overflowing while you are away. So make choices, a little extra effort and time on the road will be completely worth it.

When we went to South America we really wanted to see Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia. It was completely and utterly out of the way, but who knew when we’d make it to this far away land again? So we made it happen. Taking 2 flights (which we had to research like hell to find) and paying extra for transfers we made it to see the world’s biggest mirror and what a journey it was! We had to skip Bolivia’s bohemian capital La Paz and had to sacrifice Lake Titicaca in Peru and only had 2 nights in the Bolivian wilderness, but I’d do it again any day. Just to see those stunning desert lakes and the salt flat.

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Salar de Uyuni in all its glory

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Making full use of the stunning landscape to take some interesting pics

Just this Spring, we went to Japan and really wanted to maximize our chance of seeing Mount Fuji. So we hired a car and drove in a hail storm to the town of Kawaguchi-ko at the foot of the mountain. The next day we were rewarded with stunning views of the almost symmetrical volcano.

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Driving in a hail storm to Kawaguchi-ko, Japan

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Rewarded the next day with breathtaking views of Mount Fuji

Or the time we spent way more than we should have, to fly to Uluru in the middle of the red desert in Australia, just to see the iconic Ayer’s Rock

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This sacred rock was such a special place with an amazing vibe you could actually feel

Or the crazy dash we made to the remote town of Jiuzhaigou in China to witness the unique turquoise lakes, a serious effort was required.

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Multi coloured lakes in Jiuzhaigou, China

So all in all, this is how we manage to pull off sometimes 16 countries a year while having a full time job! And we our total count as of now is 50, that’s only 1/4th of this beautiful blue planet, there is so much more to see.

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Be wanderlusters, make choices, if it’s too much let a professional handle the planning!

Good luck and tell us how it goes…

When to go where..a quick travel guide for each month of the year..

Whenever people ask me for travel recommendations one big question they fail to ask is “when to go where”. Timing can have a huge impact on how your trip goes and what you will be able to do. A very good friend of mine was once stuck in Myanmar in the height of summer! It was 50 degrees and she had to spend the whole day in the hotel room! She had only 3 hours in the day when she could bear to step out. Another friend visited Maldives during the rainy season and didn’t see the turquoise waters at all!

So given that it’s the start of a brand new year, here’s my recommendation on 12 countries to visit in the 12 months

January in Sweden – the best time of the year to see the northern lights. Brave the cold and head to the arctic circle to see natures own fireworks. If your luck runs out, its still a perfect winter wonderland!

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February in Brazil – be a party of the biggest party on the planet! There is nothing better in life than the carnival in Rio, sipping caipirinhas on copacabana and doing the samba down the street!

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March in Japan – by far the best and most magical time to visit Japan is during the cherry blossom bloom. Head over to historic Kyoto and enjoy the Sakura bloom clad in Kimonos.

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April in Thailand – catch the Songkran water festival and enjoy the highlights of Thailand in Bangkok, Phuket and Chiang Mai

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May in Phillipines – go to the best Labour day party in Boracay. It’s even got a name #laboracay! Enjoy the pristine blue waters and soft white beaches, by far one of the top 10 islands in the world

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June in Singapore – there is one main thing to do in Singapore and that’s shopping! There is no better time for it than when the whole island goes on sale for the Great Singapore Sale

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July in France – enjoy a romantic summer standing beneath the Eiffel Tower. Head further south to Provence to enjoy the French countryside with lavender blooming, butter croissant baking and wine aging..

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August in Kenya – head over to Masai Mara to witness the breathtaking wildlife migration. Spot the big five in dozens and learn the ways of the tribal people living as one with nature

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September in China – wait till the end of the treacherous Chinese summer and rush to see the Great Wall in Beijing, the terra cotta warriors in xian, the bund in Shanghai and the pandas in Chengdu before the cold winter sets in

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October in New York – head over to the capital of commercial holidays to celebrate Halloween. Shop for the scariest costume and go trick or treating in the concrete jungle and be a part of the NYC Halloween Parade!

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November in Myanmar – it’s the “cool season” in the ancient kingdom which was closed to outsiders till very recently. Take a hot air balloon ride over the 4000 temples in Bagan and let your jaw gradually drop!

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December in Germany – have a fairytale like white Christmas in the popular Christmas markets in Germany. Cross over to Austria if you have a few extra days. Wander around collecting little tinsels, sipping eggnog and snacking on cinnamon rolls

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So there you go; my top 12 destinations for the 12 months of 2016!

Interested in visiting any of the above destinations? Get in touch and we’ll handcraft your holiday thetravelled@outlook.com or click here